Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Vaccine race - Local businesses join hunt for jab as global rivals threaten drugmakers

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2021 | 12:32 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Nurses marching in Mandeville, Manchester, as part of the COVID-19 'Mask Up Before You Talk Up' campaign led by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton on Wednesday. See related story on A3.
Nurses marching in Mandeville, Manchester, as part of the COVID-19 'Mask Up Before You Talk Up' campaign led by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton on Wednesday. See related story on A3.

Despite Jamaica’s expectation of receiving more than 900,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine for the first phase of the roll-out set for April, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) cautioned on Wednesday that it could not commit to the timelines and amounts for the 190 countries under the COVAX Facility.

That revelation comes in the wake of a global race for the life-saving jab amid a pandemic that has infected more than 100 million people globally and killed 2.1 million. Jamaica’s coronavirus deaths climbed to 342 on Tuesday and overall cases to 15,241.

The country’s main private-sector lobbies announced on Wednesday that they were partnering with the Government in the acquisition of vaccines, pledging as well to offer logistical assistance that could be crucial in efficient deployment nationwide. The pact will cover transportation and storage; resourcing of administration, marketing, and public relations; and the allocation of trained inoculators, Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica spokesman Christopher Zacca said.

“A successful vaccination deployment programme requires a unified national approach, a whole-country approach, and the mobilisation of all available physical, human, and technology resources, as well as strong marketing and communication skills,” said Zacca, a past president.

Through an alliance with the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the private sector will be allowed to purchase and import its own supply of COVID vaccines for deployment throughout the private healthcare network, mirroring the programme with the flu vaccine.

It is unclear as to whether the Government will have any sway over whether vulnerable employees would get the jab on priority, but Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that there was still value in achieving herd immunityregardless of the recipients.

Herd immunity of 60-70 per cent is viewed by medical experts as a crucial bar in curbing the virus.

“While the Government would be seeking to target the most vulnerable, if the private sector targets some of the most vulnerable and some of the others, you still get to a number that would give the entire population a benefit,” Tufton told The Gleaner late Wednesday.

But both state and private actors are likely to have an eye on the supply-chain bottlenecks as global powerhouses in Europe and North America circle the limited number of doses available as production shortages have been cited in an emerging battle for vaccines.

The European Union on Tuesday lambasted AstraZeneca and Pfizer over delivery delays that could cripple the vaccination response across the continent amid lockdowns and fatigue over economic malaise.

Threats have also been made that vaccines could be barred from export – signs of growing anxiety that Europe might not procure sufficient doses quickly enough to expedite the continent’s recovery.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen put pressure on the drugmakers on Tuesday, saying that the bloc “means business” –casting aside the veil of diplomacy, clear evidence that initial talk about a kumbaya-style coalition could succumb to muscle and money from richer countries.

The COVAX Facility is geared at the equitable distribution of vaccines to every country, especially to smaller, poorer states. AstraZeneca and Pfizer have committed to supplying a total of 90 million doses under the programme.

Assistant director of PAHO, Dr Jarbas Barbosa, said that the first deployment of the COVAX Facility was still on schedule for March. However, he said there were other variables to consider.

“We cannot provide exactly the date or the amount of doses for each country. We need to make this kind of estimation for 190 countries that are a part of COVAX,” he said.

COVAX can only purchase vaccines that are prequalified by the World Health Organization, said Barbosa, adding that other producers would be prequalified by February.

But he was hopeful that the United States’ recent subscription to the COVAX Facility was a positive development.

“Other elite countries can be making more donations to COVAX and maybe they can use the COVAX platform to donate vaccines so that COVAX can more broadly reach the region,” Barbosa said.

The COVAX Facility has committed to vaccinate 16 per cent of the Jamaican population this year.