Slow pace of COVID-19 vaccination could hurt Jamaica, says UN body
A nurse administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive at MaverleyPrimary and Junior High School in St Andrew in December. Jamaica is one of the Caribbean countrieswith a low vaccination rate.

THE Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) says Jamaica is among four countries in the subregion which are estimated to face the greatest challenges in 2022, due to their slow pace of COVID-19 vaccination.

It's one of the findings in ECLAC's flagship annual Social Panorama of Latin America 2021 report, which was launched Thursday by the United Nations regional organisation's executive secretary Alicia Bárcena, and includes the latest poverty, inequality and social spending figures in the context of the prolonged COVID-19 crisis.

Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines are the other three countries named.While Chile, Cuba and Uruguay have more than three-quarters of their populations already fully vaccinated, only about 25 per cent of the population of the four countries mentioned are vaccinated, the report noted, with Haiti being the most worrying in the region.

ECLAC has therefore called on the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to redouble the efforts made thus far, so that by mid-2022, all countries in the region may reach the vaccination target of 70 per of their total population.

Overall, the rate of vaccination in the Caribbean has a lag of more than three months compared to Latin America, ECLAC says.

Referencing the WHO's benchmark of 70 per cent vaccination by July, it is estimated that the second dose must be given to 40.4 million people, and a first dose administered to 34.7 million more.

This means the requirement of access to approximately 110 million doses and the capacity needed to administer them, all of which will require strengthening vaccination plans in order to effectively distribute vaccines in a very short period of time, ECLAC stated.

There was a significant acceleration of vaccination in Latin American countries, between July and October, with an increase of approximately 10 percentage points per month, but this was followed by a decline in November and December.

Vaccination coverage here now hovers at about 22 per cent, a wide miss of the target of two million Jamaicans by March 2022, which the Government set its sights on at the start of the national vaccination programme.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness again signalled that a vaccine mandate is not on the cards, but that there will be a renewal of the vaccination campaign.

At the same time, ECLAC says 8.8 per cent of households in the region were unable to access health care when needed because of changes to essential health services due to the pandemic, including reductions in vaccination programmes, outpatient consultations, consultations in hospital emergency units, and care for serious illnesses such as strokes and cancer.

Further to that, 2.3 million children did not receive two routine childhood vaccines in 2020 – diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis – and 1.8 million did not receive their first dose vaccines against measles.

The interruption of vaccine schedules is of major concern since it may result in the reappearance of diseases that were epidemiologically controlled or eradicated, ECLAC said.

Further to that, in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, out-of-pocket spending on health was the main component of health expenditure during the review period, accounting on average for 33.6 per cent of the total health, and 76.2 per cent of private health expenses.

Jamaica and Cuba are mentioned among the few countries where out-of-pocket spending was less than 20 per cent of total health expenditure, attributable to the levels of public spending on health care.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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