Tue | Oct 26, 2021

‘A crying shame’

• J’cans lament being denied vax a day early as 60,000 doses expire• More could have been done to avoid wastage, says Figueroa

Published:Sunday | October 3, 2021 | 12:06 AMTameka Gordon - Senior Staff Reporter
Professor Peter Figueroa.
Professor Peter Figueroa.
Dr Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness
Dr Christopher Tufton, Minister of Health and Wellness
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With some 60,000 doses of the island’s cache of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines having expired on Friday, Professor Peter Figueroa has called into question the manner in which the Government distributed the jabs as some Jamaicans were denied shots...

With some 60,000 doses of the island’s cache of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines having expired on Friday, Professor Peter Figueroa has called into question the manner in which the Government distributed the jabs as some Jamaicans were denied shots when they turned up a day early for their boosters.

The inability of the Government to successfully administer the vaccines, which were donated to the country, before their expiration has not gone down well with some civil society and private sector players, especially since Jamaica has only vaccinated eight per cent of its 2.9 million citizens.

Other Jamaicans have taken to social media to express frustration at being turned away from vaccination sites with less than a week to go before their second shot of the two-dose jab is due. While some social media users said that they were able to access the vaccines two days before their scheduled date, others complained of being denied jabs being one day early with varying policies seemingly being employed at different sites.

Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie, chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said the Government was sticking to the recommendation of eight to 12 weeks between the administration of doses.

“The studies have shown that it is the best efficacy. So, if you have a due date, the best thing is to go on the due date,” she said, adding that the Government still had sufficient vaccines in stock to cover those due their second doses over the next few weeks.

Clinical guidelines indicate that to get the maximum effect of the vaccine, the second dose should be administered within 48 hours of the due date for the second shot, she said.

However, speaking with The Sunday Gleaner on the medical implications of receiving the second jab early, Figueroa said that there would not have been any added risk.

“It certainly would not harm you,” the noted epidemiologist said, adding that the Government could have used up more of the donated jabs since some 30,000 people are now due second doses.

“Once you took the second dose four weeks or more after the first, then you would get a good immune response. It’s just that the immune response is a bit stronger after eight weeks and even stronger after 12 weeks,” Figueroa explained.

“But if someone got it six weeks after the first dose, that’s fine, especially in a situation where you have vaccines that you have to use up quickly because of the expiry date that you don’t want to [go to] waste, so they could have encouraged people to come in a week or two earlier,” he said.

Further, he suggested, “They could have handed out more vaccines to more private practitioners and beg them to call in their patients and get vaccinated.”

The doses could also have been administered through health centres that have so far not been maximised in the vaccination drive, he said.

“It is just frustrating to hear,” he said of news of the expiration of the jabs which many countries are still struggling to procure.

“It is a crying shame that so many countries are without vaccines and we dumped so many of them,” attorney-at-law and talk-show host Emily Shields noted on Radio Jamaica’s ‘Hotline’ on Friday.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner that issues such as storage, security and staff constraints would have hampered efforts to utilise more health centres in the vaccination drive.

“Some clinics have one or two persons manning the site [and] they have lots of other cases to deal with,” Tufton said.

Of the security challenges and amid calls to utilise the resources and logistical capabilities of the Jamaica Defence Force to boost the ministry’s efforts, Tufton said that the army could not be relied on for added security and crowd control personnel at the clinics as its soldiers are also dealing with the country’s crime situation.

Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the health ministry, said the strategy going forward will be “to make the access to vaccines more convenient”, while providing better information “in real time for persons who need better particulars”.

The expired doses were part of a donation of 300,000 from the United Kingdom in July.

In April, the country also teetered on the brink of losing US$17 million worth of AstraZeneca vaccines – 75,000 doses – obtained through the African Medical Supplies Platform, but was able to administer all the doses at the eleventh hour through expanded vaccination efforts.

“Medication expiring is part of the normal process of [a] vaccination programme,” Bryan said.

“The use of vaccines is based on uptake,” he added, suggesting Jamaicans must also shoulder some blame for not coming turning up at the sites.

“If we don’t have the uptake before the time, then the vaccines will not be used and will have to be discarded,” he said.

Tufton said that the ministry will be maintaining its appointment system for vaccinations even as many Jamaicans complain that it contributes to the lengthy wait time at sites, with some persons strapped for time leaving without getting jabbed.

He said, however, that lines at vaccination sites will be separated with persons with appointments prioritised.

“It’s because we have been [lax] with the appointment system why we have long lines. Sixty per cent of people who turn up don’t have appointments, so we need to go back to that,” the minister said.

Noting that there were some 390,180 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in stock, on Friday the health ministry assured Jamaicans that there were adequate supplies and encouraged persons to get their second shot as it continues efforts to achieve a 65 per cent vaccination target for the population by March 2022.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com