Gov't sticks to 16 per cent vaccination plan

Gov't sticks to 16 per cent vaccination plan

Opposition wants 60 per cent

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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OPPOSITION Leader Mark Golding has labelled Government's plan to immunise 16 per cent of the population this year as “unsatisfactory”, arguing that the country's flagging economic fortunes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic should provide sufficient impetus for it to make every effort to achieve herd immunity this year.

Golding's comments came following the tabling of a National COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment and Vaccination Interim Plan by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton at Gordon House in downtown Kingston, yesterday.

Dr Tufton, in unveiling the plan which was approved by Cabinet on Monday, said Jamaica is committed to vaccinating 16 per cent of the population in phase 1 of a four-phase distribution strategy, and will receive 935,676 doses of the approved COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility come April. That, he said, will cost the country some $3 billion.

“At the end of phase one Jamaica will acquire additional doses of the vaccines, based on locally relevant risk factors, vulnerabilities and the COVID-19 threat. The projection for the second phase is a further 16 per cent of the population,” the health minister said. A list of priority groups, he said, will be identified for the second phase. He said it is projected that in the second phase that vaccination will be offered to the general population.

Dr Tufton said 50 per cent of doses will be earmarked for priority groups and the other 50 per cent for the general population. He told the House that the procurement of the second phase of vaccines is expected to start in the last quarter of 2021, with second-phase vaccine distribution expected to begin in the second quarter of 2022.

The minister said at the end of the distribution of phase two vaccines, 32 per cent of the population will be vaccinated.

“Based on whether there is a continued threat, demand, cost and availability of vaccine, Jamaica will endeavour to enter into a third phase of vaccine procurement. A further 16 to 32 per cent of vaccines will be procured. Twenty-five per cent of this quantity will be reserved for priority groups and special populations that have not been previously vaccinated. The balance will then be made available to the general population,” he stated.

However, the Opposition leader was unconvinced that sufficient efforts were being made to cover Jamaicans.

“I am very concerned about the volumes spoken to in your statement; the economy is going through a significant contraction, and the tourism industry and related industries are all struggling to survive.

“Achieving herd immunity in the population is critical to not only our public health but also to our economic recovery, and to hear that the Government's ambition is to achieve 16 per cent of the population being immunised in a year and then it's not till the following year that we may have another 16 per cent, when to achieve herd immunity the general consensus is that it must be around 60 per cent of the population that must be immunised, I think that is unsatisfactory; we must aim significantly higher than that,” Golding stated.

He added: “Jamaica in my opinion must do its utmost to source sufficient doses to immunise our population this year at a level that will achieve herd immunity this year. We have a very capable public health apparatus; once we are able to source the vaccines the distribution of them is something we can cope with.”

He said while the vaccines could not be forced onto individuals it is expected that with full information individuals will make rational decisions.

“Israel a week ago achieved 16 per cent; I don't know where they are now; the United Kingdom has gone over four million. We must step up our efforts especially non-COVAX; we need to do what is right by our people... to source safe vaccines from whatever legitimate safe suppliers there are and achieve herd immunity this year,” the Opposition leader said.

“Let us be a bit more ambitious, significantly more ambitious; the economy and society are depending on you to deliver on this, this year,” he added.

The health minister, in responding, however, said those ambitions might be an overreach.

“I fully appreciate his anxiety, but we are faced with a very practical scenario and that is, that you can't access what is not available and that is the real challenge we face, and I say this respectfully: It is one thing to say we have to achieve 60 per cent to get to herd immunity but if the supplies are just not there, they are just not there,” Tufton said

He added that industrialised countries with significant amounts of resources and which have done much worse than Jamaica and which are even more anxious “are far less able, it appears, to provide more vaccines to the population”.

“So it's an aspirational position but it really cannot be placed in the realism of the situation that is here now, and that's something I think the member should bear in mind,” he said, calling on the Opposition to help with efforts to overcome anxieties about the vaccine in the population.

“We will need a bipartisan approach; 16 per cent is a conservative figure, [but] I do believe we will get more,” Tufton added.

The Government last week announced that in addition to efforts to obtain vaccines under the COVAX facility it will be conducting bilateral meetings with several countries, to include India, China and Cuba, as it seeks out other arrangements to access additional safe supplies for Jamaicans.

Currently, there are three vaccines that have been fully approved for use with others in various stages of the development process.

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