Will the PM keep his promise of free COVID-19 vaccines to Jamaicans?

Will the PM keep his promise of free COVID-19 vaccines to Jamaicans?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

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In August this year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness promised that once a safe and tested COVID-19 vaccine became available, a government he leads would provide it free of cost to all Jamaicans.

It was the month before general elections and the people of Jamaica returned Mr Holness' Government to power, and not merely returned them but with a decisive margin of 49 seats to the Opposition's 14.

Since then, US giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and American firm Moderna have announced the development of two vaccines that offer over 95 per cent effectiveness against the novel coronavirus.

Another firm, AstraZeneca, has developed an antibody treatment for COVID-19 which is now in Phase 3 of the trial stage.

It is not immediately clear how much it will cost the Government to deliver or have any of these vaccines available free of cost to an estimated three million Jamaicans when they get to market. And Mr Holness did not say how the cost would be met, specifically whether it would require additional taxes to foot the bill.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which has committed itself to support countries in facing the challenges and cost of a future COVID-19 vaccine, has put a projected figure of US$2 billion on vaccinating 20 per cent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean.

PAHO has reiterated that it is working with countries in the Americas to facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX Mechanism, and will offer them the option to purchase the vaccines as a block through its PAHO Revolving Fund.

We do not yet know for sure how much the PAHO support to Jamaica will amount to, and we expect that the Jamaican Government will have to defray some of the cost, even if it's only for the storage and delivery of the vaccine to local outlets.

Twenty-eight self-financing countries have signed agreements with the COVAX facility, and an additional 10 countries are eligible for support under the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, PAHO said.

We suspect that we will need as much help as we can get from PAHO which, fortunately, has been quite proactive in partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union and other financial institutions and donors to secure the funding needed for lower income countries in the region to join COVAX.

PAHO and UNICEF have already kicked off the purchasing process for COVID-19 vaccines by inviting vaccine manufacturers around the world to apply to become a supplier for the 186 countries that have joined the COVAX facility, which aims to deploy two billion doses of the vaccines globally.

Still, the organisation has been sanguine in its outlook and has made it clear that delivering vaccines for COVID-19 “will be challenging and costly, so it is vital that countries start preparing now”.

That includes Jamaica, where preparations mean budgeting, making the difficult arrangements for storage, possibly at below zero degree temperature and fine-tuning the network of pharmacies, hospitals and health clinics through which the vaccine will be delivered to the people, as well as designing the compulsory public education programme.

At the speed at which things are developing on the vaccine front, we don't have much time to, as Jamaicans on the street would say, lay-lay.


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