Vaccination on wheels
Health ministry launches mobile unit; J'cans hail it as convenientSunday, September 12, 2021
BY ROMARDO LYONS
MORE than 200 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were yesterday administered under a pilot programme inside the Ministry of Health and Wellness's new mobile vaccination unit at Fontana Pharmacy on Waterloo Road in St Andrew.
The unit, a converted luxury bus, is the first of two donated by the People's Republic of China and will be used to take vaccines to Jamaicans as part of the Government's community distribution effort.
According to Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, the unit will making it easier for Jamaicans to get vaccinated while they are carrying out their regular business.
“We are here at Fontana, Waterloo, piloting the mobile vaccination unit and these buses — two of them were donated by the Chinese Government, which we appreciate a lot — will go into communities and pop up at locations to encourage vaccination. We are now at a pharmacy location but we'll pop up in a community, at the market place, in Half-Way-Tree, in Mandeville Square — that sorta thing,” Tufton shared with the Jamaica Observer.
He said the Government has also issued a request for quotations from private companies — such as hospitals, pharmacies, medical complexes — in order to widen access to vaccines for the public.
The entities will have to meet the basic requirements to deliver vaccines and will be compensated for every dose they administer.
“They will become part of the fleet of outlets to provide more opportunities for people to get vaccinated,” he added.
The unit was well-received by Jamaicans who gathered under tents awaiting their turn to board the bus and receive the jab. Inside, health-care officials stood ready to administer the vaccine. More than five people can be dealt with at any one time.
Leather-cushioned chairs, air conditioning and privacy made the experience a lot less nerve-racking for many.
Immediately after receiving her first shot and disembarking the unit, Annett Davis told the Sunday Observer that she had always wanted to visit a vaccination site but never had the time.
“This was very convenient for me. I work in the Papine area so it was always difficult for me to go to the National Arena and some other places. So, me getting my vaccine here today is really a matter of convenience for me. This is my first dose. I wasn't nervous… I just made up my mind that I had to do it and get it over with,” she said.
Leighton Burton, who carried his daughter, Drew, to get her second Pfizer shot, said the location of the unit was very advantageous as they had journeyed to Merl Grove High School and learnt that there were no vaccinations being done at that site.
“We actually stopped by Merl Grove first and we were told that we should come back tomorrow. Then I got a call from my wife saying that they are doing vaccinations at Fontana, which was nearby. So, out of convenience, I said 'Okay, let's get it over with and done.' So we just swung over. And, based on what I'm seeing, the process is pretty smooth so we're happy that we made it,” Burton told the Sunday Observer.
“I am already fully vaccinated. Getting my daughter the opportunity to benefit from face-to-face learning is one reason why it's important that she is vaccinated. We need to get back to face-to-face learning. Of course, the kids are the future so you want to do everything you can to protect them. That's why we're here,” he added.
Drew said she was happy she was able to get her second dose.
“The first shot was kind of terrifying but the second one today wasn't as bad. I am just happy that I can go back to face-to-face learning. I attend Hillel Academy,” she said.
Fitness expert and personal trainer Stephen Ming said the unit being at Fontana was a great convenience for him and his daughter, 18-year-old Morgan Ming. “Someone told us that we could come here, and we actually walked here. It's a good idea and I must applaud the minister and his team for taking the vaccine to the people. I think it's a good venture and it's one of the reasons that we could get more people vaccinated and quickly get back to normal,” Ming said.
“I'm fully vaccinated. My daughter goes to school, and when you look around and see what's happening with the hospitalisations and so on, it's important to me that she's also vaccinated. She does not have an underlying condition but just to give herself a chance, we were prepared from earlier to take the vaccine,” Ming added.
Earlier, Dr Tufton said the expansion of vaccination outlets will help to increase the percentage of Jamaicans who are fully vaccinated.
“Because there are so many Jamaicans who have had their first jab and now need to take their second jab, in the next four to five weeks you're going to see a significant jump in the number of persons who have moved from partially vaccinated to fully vaccinated. We have about 350,000 Jamaicans, most of whom are due about now to get their second jab. So while we have about six to seven per cent that are fully vaccinated, by the time we give those who are partially vaccinated, we are going to jump closer to 15 to 20 per cent, which is a good thing,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“The criticisms that were levied at us in the early stages have not factored sufficiently the fact that we never had vaccines; and some of the bottlenecks we had were unplanned because persons just turned up and never registered,” he explained.
While the minister encouraged Jamaicans who have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to get the second dose when they are due, he underscored the issue of “preference for certain types of vaccines” that the ministry faces.
“The number one seems to be Pfizer and I suspect this is so because Pfizer is more known, coming out of the US, the influence of the Diaspora on their family members here, the marketing of the brand and so on. The AstraZeneca is next and the Johnson & Johnson [J&J] is third of the three that we now have,” he said.
“We're going to have to do some work to convince Jamaicans that all the vaccine brands offer protection, all of them are safe, all of them have gone through the clinical trial process. And in the case of the Johnson & Johnson, the added advantage, clearly, is that it is a single jab as opposed to having to get two jabs. Therefore, people who are afraid of needles can use it and it gives the same benefit.”
Tufton said this is especially important now as the Government has earmarked and spent money to acquire Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“We have on contract 1.9 million J&J vaccines purchased. This is not a gift now, and that will come every month over the next number of months. And so, we want to encourage Jamaicans to take the Johnson & Johnson. It is a good vaccine and we can't get into the politics of vaccine brands or the competition around brands. I want to discourage it. The cardinal rule to vaccine is to take the first one you get, and in the case of Jamaica, every single one offers good protection,” he said.
He added that Jamaicans will very soon benefit from 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine manufactured in China.
“That will be an added brand, and that is in the making now. We're going to get that through the COVAX facility and we'll get, initially, 100,000 doses. And now that the Cuban vaccines should be available, we're going to pursue the possibility of bringing in some Cuban-branded vaccines. We're very proud of Cuba; they have an excellent reputation for biotechnology research and, of course, they are one of our biggest supporters when it comes to clinical personnel,” he said, noting that the vaccine is currently awaiting approval.