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Tufton apologises for vaccination shutouts

Published:Thursday | June 24, 2021 | 12:13 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has expressed regret for the inconvenience caused to hundreds of Jamaicans who were turned away from vaccination centres on Wednesday, days after the weekend fiasco that saw the National Arena shutting its doors shortly after opening.

Jamaica is expecting a small allocation of vaccines this weekend into Monday as it seeks to alleviate uncertainty about immunisation supplies.

Further, the Mexican government has donated 35,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Jamaica, which are expected by the end of June.

“We have to strive to do better and we will. The persons who are coming close to achieving that 12-week period are going to be given priority,” Tufton said during Wednesday’s parliamentary joint select committee meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Priority candidates would be contacted, said Tufton, while urging others who are anxious to get their second dose not to turn up to vaccination sites.

The health minister said that persons close to the 12-week mark who believe they have been overlooked may visit their health centre, call the toll-free number, or visit the website.

“The issue is not so much a lack of planning as it has been impacted by the lack of availability of vaccines and the unpredictableness of the expected supplies that we were hoping to have ... ,” he said.

“The other element that would have impacted the second dose availability would be the fact that we would’ve gotten the 75,000 doses of vaccines that would have expired in five or so days,” he said, adding that the Government was forced to deliver what it had and now must get the second tranche to make the second doses possible.

Opposition Spokesperson on Health and Wellness Dr Morais Guy raised concerns about the expiry date of the vaccines expected from Mexico.

In response, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said the ministry has received documentation showing that the vaccines expire between late September and early October.

“There’s a few months on it, and we intend to use it up in a week or two weeks,” she said.

Tufton added that given the need for second doses, the ministry is fairly prepared to administer the 35,000 doses within a relatively short period.

“I think we have the capacity to do it, having delivered 83,000 in four days,” the health minister said.

With the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols that will see nightly curfews beginning at 11 o’clock, with the exception of Sundays, and the reopening of the entertainment sector, the CMO said there is continued capacity building in the event of a surge.

“We have several agreements with our partners internationally, countries like China, South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, we have been getting assistance with equipment, getting more high-flow nasal oxygen systems and oxygen concentrators.

“We have been focusing on getting more monitoring equipment, more ventilators, so we do continue to prepare to build capacity in the event that we do have another surge,” Bisasor-McKenzie said.

Possible surge

Tufton said the risks of the newly announced measures will increase the possibility of a surge.

“The focus on surveillance has to be a big one because part of the easing of restrictions is also looking at triggers to provide warning signs of the possibility of a surge,” the minister said.

“We have to ensure that we recognise any trends, even gradual ones that are suggesting an uptick in the positivity rate, in hospitalisation, and so on, and signal that very early to the policymakers and to, if necessary, pull back the levers so that we can minimise any significant surge.”

Guy noted that most of the testing being done now is for people who present themselves to health centres and hospitals with symptoms.

He recommended that community testing, even if for a short time, be done to determine if it parallels the reported numbers.

The CMO said that the COVID-19 surveillance protocols have not changed, and disclosed that increased testing was being done.