Wed | Jun 16, 2021

SLASHED - Gov’t moves to reallocate funds from $422m vax promotion campaign

Published:Saturday | February 20, 2021 | 12:16 AMJonielle Daley/Staff Reporter
Dr Shanice Mullings (left) prepares to swab the nostrils of eight-year-old Actavia Harging, who was scared of submitting to the coronavirus test in Central Village, St Catherine, on January 13. The Government is hoping to vaccinate at least two million Jam
Dr Shanice Mullings (left) prepares to swab the nostrils of eight-year-old Actavia Harging, who was scared of submitting to the coronavirus test in Central Village, St Catherine, on January 13. The Government is hoping to vaccinate at least two million Jamaicans by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
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The Government will be cutting the $422-million COVID-19 vaccine marketing budget disclosed two weeks ago by the health ministry amid criticisms over the spend.

Speaking yesterday at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Andrews Mews Health Centre and Recreational Centre in his St Andrew West Central constituency, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that revisions were being made to the vaccine sensitisation budget and that the country would be updated in short order of the reallocation.

“... We could reallocate those resources to other areas in health,” he said. “In fact, to even acquire more vaccines.”

Last week, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced that the one-year contract, which has been awarded to One Integrated Group, was to see the company earning $22 million, with the balance going towards advertising spend, such as radio, television and newspaper advertisements, as well as on-the-ground activation and deployment in various communities, plus the development of content and securing talent.

Tufton had defended the figure, pointing to data from surveys showing as low as 30 per cent the willingness among citizens in pockets of the island to get vaccinated.

He argued that with such low figures, the campaign was needed to get a greater buy-in to achieve herd immunity.

“When we are talking about a herd immunity, that really ought to represent 70 to 80 per cent, especially for this type of novel virus that is sweeping the world and is impacting the entire population. So it is not an easy task and my core discipline is marketing, so I can speak with authority,” he said.

“I am not envious of what they need to do, because it is a lot. Sometimes we get the impression when we see $400 million believing it’s a lot,” Tufton said further, adding that sometimes, sufficient value is not given to the need to manage public perception.

Risk of vaccines expiring

Yesterday, Holness reiterated Tufton’s concerns, saying there could be a risk of vaccines expiring if a significant number of Jamaicans are hesitant to take the jab when the shipment arrives in the island.

“They don’t last forever so we have to ensure that we plan enough to educate,” said Holness. “On that note, they will be moving forward with public education and promotion of vaccines to communicate with citizens the purpose of the vaccines, possible side effects and time and place of deployment.”

The prime minister expressed hope that as Jamaicans witness family members and others worldwide take the jab with no adverse effects, more people will be open to it. Hence, the reconsideration of the funds to maximise the procurement of the jab even as developed countries hoard the vaccines for their population.

Excess G7 doses

G7 states – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – have been accused of ordering 1.5 billion vaccines more than their entire population requires at two jabs. The group says it will donate excess doses to developing countries.

Jamaica is set to purchase 3.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at a cost of $5 billion to immunise two million citizens by the end of 2021.

The initial plan to immunise some 450,000 citizens has changed in light of a 100 per cent increase in active cases in two weeks and a death rate of 1.9 per cent.

The country’s daily positivity rates continue to soar above 20 per cent with Jamaica raking up 271 positive cases just yesterday.

Jamaica is expected to receive its first shipment of up to 249,000 AstraZeneca vaccines under the COVAX facility by the end of the month.

The Indian government has also committed to donate 50,000 doses of the COVAXIN vaccine to Jamaica, Tufton said in Parliament on Thursday. Another 50,000 doses are being procured through a health ministry-private sector partnership.

jonielle.daley@gleanerjm.com