Low vax worry
Business, tourism leaders troubled by rate No danger in delaying second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, says expert
WITH 93.7 per cent of the population yet to get a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, Jamaica’s rate of inoculation remains worryingly low.
New data released by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) shows that, up to June 23, a total of 98,057 Jamaicans, or 3.6 per cent of the population, have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 2.7 per cent or 74,229 Jamaicans now fully vaccinated.
The new figures contradict an earlier report by the director of family health services in the health ministry, Dr Melody Ennis, in which she suggested that more 220,000 Jamaicans had received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
Nonetheless, the new data, contained in a report titled ‘COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage and Effect on COVID-19 Transmission, Jamaica 2021’, suggests that of the total number of vaccinated persons, 12.6 per cent of persons, 80 years old and over, have been fully vaccinated, while 7.8 per cent of this cohort have only received a first dose.
Government has tried to coax seniors to take the jab, with a $10,000 grant announced recently for those who are fully vaccinated. The initiative takes effect on July 15.
Of the current priority group – 50 to 59 years old – 4.6 per cent have been fully vaccinated, with 5.9 per cent only getting the first dose, according to MoHW data.
This compares to 2.3 per cent in the 40-49 age group who have been fully vaccinated and 4.4 per cent in the same category who have only received their first dose.
Just 1.1 per cent of the age group of 20 to 29 has been fully vaccinated, with 2.7 per cent receiving their first dose, the ministry said.
Jamaica remains one of the least vaccinated populations in the English-speaking Caribbean, behind countries such as Barbados (23 per cent), St Kitts and Nevis (22 per cent), Guyana (13 per cent), St Lucia (12 per cent), the Bahamas (six per cent) and Trinidad and Tobago (four per cent). Up to April this year, Jamaica was ranked 84th of 157 nations listed in the New York Times global tracker.
NO MEDICAL DANGER
As a global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines worsens, the local vaccination programme has been hit with hiccups and logistical glitches, with some persons turning up to vaccination sites in the last week unable to secure their second doses.
However, professor of public health, epidemiology and HIV/AIDS at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Peter Figueroa, said those who missed their jabs are really not in any medical danger.
“As long as the delay is not too long, it doesn’t appear to be a problem, from the medical point of view,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
“If you are due the second dose in 10 weeks and it goes to 12 weeks, there is really no difference in how your immune system responds. The body doesn’t forget that it has the first dose … the truth is, if people go out to 16 weeks, it’s not going to harm them in any way,” Dr Figueroa said, noting, however, that the length of time between doses heightens the risk of being infected since complete inoculation would not have been attained.
“In the vaccine trials, some people went beyond the 12 weeks before they got the [second] dose and it wasn’t a problem. The only problem is that, with only one dose, while you do have some protection, it is not as much as if you have two doses,” Dr Figueroa added.
KINGSTON AND ST ANDREW MOST VACCINATED
Meanwhile, a breakdown of vaccination by parishes, up to June 23, shows Kingston and St. Andrew with the highest number of doses administered. A total of 26,171 people have been fully vaccinated, with 40,812 getting their first dose. By Statistical Institute of Jamaica’s data, Kingston and St Andrew are the most populous parishes, with over 669,773 residents up to 2018.
Manchester has the second highest distribution of doses, with 7,956 people fully vaccinated, while 3,503 people are waiting for second doses in the parish.
Portland and St Thomas rounded out the bottom two parishes in terms of doses administered, with Portland having 1,597 people fully vaccinated and 1,739 people waiting for second shots. St Thomas had 1,900 people fully vaccinated, while 1,516 people are waiting for their second jab.
Reacting to the data, Private Sector Organization of Jamaica president Keith Duncan said he is hoping that Jamaica is able to secure more vaccines, “because we are not where we want to be”.
“We are hopeful that, as the supply chain is unlocked, as indicated by United States President Joe Biden and the G7 countries, our Jamaican people will overcome their vaccine hesitancy and take the vaccines as we strive to protect ourselves, families, way of life, livelihoods and economy,” Duncan said.
In the tourism-centred parish of Westmoreland, only 3,773 persons were fully vaccinated up to June 23, with 2,075 people waiting for second doses.
St Ann had a similar 2.6 per cent population coverage, with some 4,549 people fully vaccinated and 4,901 people waiting for dose two.
The parish of St James had 6,906 people fully vaccinated, with 6,539 people waiting for second doses, according to MoHW statistics.
In February, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) revealed that more than a third of the country’s 50,000 hotel workers had said they would not be taking the vaccine.
When contacted yesterday, JHTA president Clifton Reader said he was still not clear of their status.
“I had several people turned back, and I only got my second dose because I am over 50,” Reader explained.
“When the vaccine ran out, it wasn’t a lot who had gotten their shot but a lot of them wanted to get it,” he said, adding that the JHTA had been able to convert some of the dissenters to take the jab.
“The Government cannot talk to me about who didn’t take it until they have vaccines available,” he stressed.
A temperature test of hotel operators further shows that many are willing to pay for the shots “just to get the vaccination done for their workers”, Reader said.
The JHTA president also celebrated the continued low positivity rate of the sector.
“Our protocols have worked. Whilst the positivity rate was 30 per cent in Jamaica, tourism was running a rate of .65 per cent of 67,000 guests tested and not many workers got the virus.
“For those who got it, you can basically trace it back to community,” he said.
“Right now, having spoken to a couple of the labs, the positivity rate is .35 per cent in the tourism sector, which is miniscule,” Reader added.
Jamaica has so far received 249,800 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine through five shipments between March and May this year. Another donation of 35,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is due to arrive shortly from the government of Mexico, with 1.9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to arrive by August.
MILLIONS STILL OWING
Meanwhile, the health ministry is reporting that significant payments have been made to workers who took part in its recent blitz.
With a total of 11 blitz days completed so far, a total $59.6 million has been paid out to 2,499 workers who were employed for its five-day vaccination blitz between April 9 and 13.
However, millions more are still owing to workers by the health ministry, with pressure mounting on Government to settle the remaining six days.
“We are collating those numbers now,” permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dunstan Bryan, told The Sunday Gleaner amid demands from the Nurses Association of Jamaica for settlement of the outstanding amounts.
Payment for the blitz exercises is coming directly from the health ministry’s budget. Government has allocated $5 billion for spending on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and another $978 million set aside for a national vaccination programme aimed at inoculating two million Jamaicans against COVID-19 by March 2022.
The blitz exercises are coordinated by the four regional health authorities. For the April blitz, the Southeast Regional Health Authority paid out $21.5 million to 814 workers; the Southern Regional Health Authority, $21.6 million to 835 workers; the Western Regional Health Authority, $8.8 million to 526 workers; and the North East Regional Health Authority, $8.7 million to 324 workers, according to health ministry data.