A paltry 16%?

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A paltry 16%?

A more robust national vaccination programme must be our objective

Warren McDonald

Sunday, January 17, 2021

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Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, in a newspaper article of January 10, 2021, said that any semblance of an upturn during the highly anticipated winter tourism season has effectively been crippled by the latest response of Canada and the UK, two of our major source markets, to require all individuals entering their countries after January 7, 2021 to present negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR)/angina test results to enter or to avoid quarantine.

The United States, our principal tourist supply market, which provides approximately 70 per cent of our tourists, has followed suit and implemented similar measures due to start on January 26.

These new requirements, in addition to effectively crippling the 2021 high season, should also serve as a warning for our Government to get its act together regarding our testing capacity and our vaccination programme for the novel coronavirus.

All our major tourist supply markets have ongoing COVID-19 vaccination programmes aimed at having some form of herd immunity by the end of summer 2021. They will undoubtedly implement further measures after this level of immunity has been achieved to protect the unvaccinated sector of their population against the current virus and possible future mutations and variants of the virus.

It is not at all far-fetched that these measures may include some form of restriction of travel to countries not having progressive vaccination programmes.

Jamaica, with a planned 16 per cent of its population to be vaccinated by the end of 2021, would certainly fall into this category. Should this be the case, not only will the 2021 high tourist season be crippled, but 2022 will not see the rebound in tourism we are all hoping and praying for.

Procurement of tested and proven COVID-19 vaccines over and above the paltry 16 per cent vaccination of our population in 2021 must be priority one if we are to have a rebound in tourism and our economy later this year. A more robust national vaccination programme aimed at achieving some form of herd immunity this year should and must be our objective.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that more than 36 countries have been negotiating bilateral deals to acquire vaccines for their people.

Professor Peter Figueroa, a member of the WHO working group on COVID-19 vaccines, sees trouble ahead for vaccines under COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility) in terms of getting adequate quantities and the type of vaccines which best suit our conditions.

The Caribbean Community has called for a global summit to discuss equitable access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. Jamaica must be proactive to safeguard its people by securing a more meaningful supply of vaccines.

Recent press reports have indicated that India — a major manufacturer of vaccines — has decided to vaccinate its own population before exporting to other countries. Tests of the Chinese vaccine in Brazil has shown only an efficacy rate of just over 50 per cent.

Having said that, the timing of the acquisition of meaningful quantities of proven quality vaccines is an imperative if we are to abort the spread of the novel coronavirus and its possible mutants and to avoid the eventual costly and more drastic lockdown of our overall economy. Acquisition, as we know, is only one part of a logistic plan that is needed. Storage, distribution, and the actual delivery of the vaccine to recipients, accompanied by a national public relations awareness undertaking, are the more demanding parts of the programme. I trust the Government is well advanced in its planning of these events.

Warren McDonald is a former regional managing director of Berger Caribbean and past president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or warmcd@gmail.com.


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