Tufton cautiously optimistic amid vaccine challenge
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton talks with 84-year-old retired matron Mavis Gregory-Williams after she received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine yesterdayat Mandeville Regional Hospital.(Photo: Gregory Bennett)

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The Government is being pinned against the ropes by rising COVID-19 cases that have exhausted bed spaces on COVID wards at four of the five hospitals in the southern region and India's decision to temporarily halt exportation of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in that country due to an increase in domestic demand.

But despite the double blow, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is cautiously optimistic that vaccine supplies should not pose a problem in the coming months.

“It has been very difficult. In fact, Jamaica was the first country in the Caribbean to receive commercial doses. Now we have a formalised announcement that there is going to be a delay because India wants to keep the vaccine for its population because of the surges in that country,” Dr Tufton told journalists at Mandeville Regional Hospital yesterday.

Noting that India is the largest manufacturer of vaccines, Tufton said that country's decision to put a hold on exports of the booster “would certainly create some dislocation and some shortages”.

With Jamaica having so far received just over 64,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Dr Tufton said there will be further delays in the arrival of more vaccines.

“To the extent where they are challenged because of the slow up of production or the availability because of what is happening in India and indeed in other parts of the world is the extent to which we will see delays,” he said.

Given that reality, he encouraged Jamaicans to continue maintaining the COVID-19 safety protocols.

“… We are cautiously optimistic, but it is more likely that we will see some delays than none at all. What we have to do is to ensure that we maintain the protocols… Because frankly speaking, even if we had vaccines now you wouldn't benefit from the type of immunity that we desire as a country. It is so important that the country understands that we have to continue managing the way we have managed over the last year with the protocols being observed, and any other restrictions that the Government has put in place,” he said.

When asked what assurance can be given to people who have received their first dose that there will be vaccines available for the second dose, Dr Tufton said: “I am not going to play prophet or God to predict with certainty anything. This is a very volatile marketplace [and] situation. It is a global challenge, so I'm not going to speak with absolute certainty. What I will say, however, is that the chances of the market becoming a lot more available for vaccines are greatly enhanced, I think over the next two to three months, because the countries that are not holding back supplies from exports are using the supplies that they have for their internal population. I think it is a matter of time before they reach a particular point, either because of vaccine hesitancy or them exhausting the population that they are targeting, there will be vaccines available for the rest of the world.”

He said he had no doubt that the people who have already received their first dose will get their second jab. “They have between two and three months; I think we will see some freeing up during that time,” he said.

“What I will say to them is that there is no harm done even if they miss that initial deadline, because the fact that they got one jab gives them some protection than if they got none at all, and there is no downside, even though we are trying to ensure that they get the second dose,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tufton revealed that Jamaica is set to receive a second field hospital today, courtesy of the US Government.

“We are now looking at where we will deploy that facility,” he said.

BY KASEY WILLIAMS Observer staff reporter kaseyw@jamaicaobserver.com

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