Vaccine diplomacy is essentialSunday, February 14, 2021
JAMAICA'S COVID-19 pandemic has entered a new phase, evident in the recent surge, which could further stretch the country's limited financial and human resources. This has been self-inflicted by a combination of indiscipline and ignorance.
Indiscipline is manifested in the disbelief in wearing masks and a preference for uncertain remedies like drinking bush tea. The problem will be exacerbated by a strong distrust of vaccines. Ignorance is based on a willingness to suspend reality in favour of individual exceptionalism.
For the rational and informed, acceptance of mask-wearing, social distancing and vaccination is the best option for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. The first two requirements are a matter of personal discipline.
In respect of the third – vaccination – the Government will have to play a greater role by mounting a comprehensive vaccination campaign, buttressed by substantial public education. Otherwise, Jamaica could lose the benefits of the hard work and success achieved since March last year through public and private collaboration.
Big picture, there is a view that our vaccination campaign is off to a late start compared to other countries, reportedly including other Caribbean countries. Jamaica has not yet received any vaccines although reports say Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada and Montserrat have already sourced vaccines.
Supply of the vaccine is generally lagging behind the demand and the slow and erratic campaign of actual vaccination has left the poor, ethnic minorities and the population of developing countries last in line to get any vaccines.
This is compounded by the tardiness and complacency of some governments in developing countries. This has prompted our own Government, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) to accuse developed countries of hoarding the vaccines.
Instead of complaining about vaccine hoarding we suggest that Jamaica resorts to diplomacy – vaccine diplomacy, if you will - similar to some other countries. India, for example, sent vaccines to Barbados after an urgent request from Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
India, which manufactures the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine under licence, dispatched two consignments of vaccines to the countries of Barbados and Dominica under the Vaccine Maitri initiative.
It is possible that some of the developed countries may release some supplies for other countries once their domestic demands are met, but at what cost and when? India and China are both distributing internationally even before their own domestic vaccination campaigns are completed.
Developing countries that have not exercised their diplomatic skills will have to wait on the COVAX Facility of the WHO and that of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). It is reported that through the COVAX Facility, Jamaica is supposed to receive between 146,400 and up to 249,600 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines starting this month.
Government should not wait and hope that everything will work as promised by the suppliers, and in keeping with the schedules of the facilities handling the delivery of vaccines. The Government must ensure that all our options are exercised on behalf of Jamaicans.
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