SAJ members and staff encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19
“Some protection is better than no protection at all,” is the advice of Dr Marc Ricketts of the Ruthven Medical Centre, as he spoke with a group of shipping industry employees in a virtual meeting on Wednesday, February 24. He noted that there are minor reactions in only about three per cent of persons who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine that will be offered in Jamaica and that persons should protect themselves by getting the vaccine when it becomes available to them.
He was leading a seminar organised by The Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) as it continues to update members and staff on new information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In a presentation titled ‘COVID-19: A reality check’, Ricketts noted that Jamaica was experiencing an increase in cases as well as in the “positivity rate”, whereas the world is now seeing a decline in both. He explained that the positivity rate is a major cause for concern, as it is showing that one in every three Jamaicans are testing positive for the virus. “This means,” Dr Ricketts said, “that if you are at a domino table with four players, chances are that one of them has the virus.”
He said that because hospitals are now at maximum capacity, and with approximately 60-70 per cent of persons carrying the virus being asymptomatic, it is essential for all persons to adhere to the guidelines: wear masks; keep at least six feet apart; wash hands regularly, avoid enclosed places where others are gathered, and “stay home unless it is vitally essential that you venture outside”.
ANTIGEN AND PCR TESTS
“Lack of adherence to the protocols established by the Ministry of Health and Wellness is the main reason for the increases now being experienced,” Dr Ricketts noted. He went on to describe the differences between the antigen and PCR tests for the virus. He explained that the rapid antigen test identifies the presence of SARS-CoV-2 by detecting protein fragments that accompany coronavirus, and it doesn’t require lab analysis. The PCR test, on the other hand, detects the genetic material that’s specific to SARS-CoV-2, and the sample must be processed in a medical lab that’s properly equipped to analyse it.
He said that whereas the antigen test is able to detect the virus at the peak of infection in the person affected, the PCR test can detect the virus at lower levels of infection. The medical doctor informed participants that the optimum testing period is usually within seven to nine days after exposure.
Turning to the anti-COVID vaccines, Dr Ricketts addressed the concern of those who feel that the rush to produce vaccines may have compromised their safety. He said that the development of the vaccines started as far back as 2003 with laboratory research into SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was identified as a coronavirus, and then again in 2012 in response to MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), another coronavirus.
“The molecular biology had already been done,” Dr Ricketts explained, before going on to explain what took place in the various phases of the trials before the vaccines were passed by the World Health Organization and the USA’s Federal Drug Administration. He advised that mutations of the COVID virus is similar to what happens to all viruses, such as the flu virus. He says that, as in the case of the flu virus, the vaccines may need to be modified in order to counter the new variants, and therefore persons may need to be vaccinated annually.
The SAJ was early in activating its emergency response plan in March 2020 in recognition of the need to protect its staff, members, and business in the face of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus disease.