Wed | Sep 22, 2021

Vaccines due for 2nd shots only – NHF

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2021 | 12:21 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter

As the global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines worsens, chairman of the National Health Fund (NHF), Howard Mitchell, has disclosed that the 55,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine expected from the COVAX Facility later this week will be...

As the global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines worsens, chairman of the National Health Fund (NHF), Howard Mitchell, has disclosed that the 55,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine expected from the COVAX Facility later this week will be administered to persons who are due their second shot.

Market volatility continues to inflame global tensions over vaccine supply, with a clear path to doubling up the cohort of vaccinated Jamaicans yet to emerge as local infections topped 44,250, with deaths at 738.

The United States’ recent suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the decision by the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) to cease the use of AstraZeneca, may deal a crippling blow to Jamaica’s vaccination campaign.

“We live off of the backs of those two large purchasers and we can’t get anything off of the commercial market because production is down, so we are facing a crisis,” Mitchell told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

The last batch of vaccines shipped to the island was a gift of 75,000 doses of AstraZeneca (SI) from the AMSP, prompting the Government to embark on a five-day blitz that ended April 13, the date that cache of vaccines expired.

According to the country’s Interim Vaccination Plan, Jamaica was projected to procure 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca in April from the Serum Institute (SI) through a combination of private and government efforts, but those plans have been upended by India’s scaling back of exports as it grapples with its own deadly COVID-19 crisis.

“Until India solves its problem, we will not get vaccines from them,” Mitchell said bluntly.

India will be making the vaccine available to everyone over 18 years old come May 1, as it tries to tackle a second wave of the pandemic. Production at the SI is also hampered by a ban on exports of raw material from the US.

SI chief Adar Poonawalla tweeted a request last Friday for US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo.

Mitchell said that the dislocation caused by the COVID spike has created production difficulties. Coupled with the hoarding of tens of millions of vaccines by First-World countries, Jamaica’s own vaccination campaign is in trouble. Health officials had initially promised 20,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine for this month, but that bid, too, appears to have collapsed.

“Commercial sources of vaccines are just not available. We have approached various countries, the United States included, to see if they could facilitate us purchasing some of their allocations, but up to now we have not received a good response from anybody,” said Mitchell.

“What I can tell you is that the timeline for getting more vaccine will have to be extended,” the NHF chairman said.

The Government had initially targeted 247,789 Jamaicans for the first dose of the vaccine between March and April and for the second dose to be administered between May and June.

But up to last week, the country had only managed to vaccinate 135,473 persons, with the majority receiving the jab during the five-day blitz. According to a New York Times tracker, Jamaica has provided 4.6 doses per 100 people, making it one of the least vaccinated populations, per capita, in the English-speaking Caribbean. Jamaica ranked 84th of 157 nations listed.

Health officials were hoping that more vaccines would be approved by mid-year by the World Health Organization (WHO), but some of the clear front runners, like Russia’s Sputnik V, are yet to be given the green light.

“We are still waiting on Cuba, and they are doing their test, but I don’t see them going to WHO before July or August anyway, and that will take a period of time,” Mitchell surmised.

Jamaica kick-started its vaccination programme on March 10. With the eight- to 12-week timeline for the second dose, those who first got the jab would have to again be inoculated by April 28, at the first instance, with the window closing by May 26.

Supply shortages are also compounded by the reality that new variants of the virus are emerging and because vaccine hesitancy is rife.

“There is no predictability and a lot of uncertainty. You will get commitments today and those commitments are withdrawn tomorrow,” the NHF chairman said.