Mon | Jan 17, 2022

Expect more vax barriers, Tufton warns public

Published:Monday | December 6, 2021 | 12:10 AMDavid Salmon/Gleaner Writer
Public health nurse Hopelyn Mullings administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Damion Lewis at Tarrant High School on Saturday.
Public health nurse Hopelyn Mullings administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Damion Lewis at Tarrant High School on Saturday.

An increase in entry barriers against unvaccinated Jamaicans is expected to be a key strategy of the Holness administration in its bid to ramp up the country’s flagging COVID-19 immunisation campaign

That will complement community-focused outreach and public education as three prongs that will be crucial to changing the tide as a fourth wave of the coronavirus looms large by January, based on projections by epidemiologists and other medical experts.

The Jamaican Government has been coy about introducing a vaccine mandate here, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness preferring subtler language referring to “vaccine options”.

But Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton gave a clear indication on the weekend that expansion of vaccine barriers - whether by the Government or private sector - will be a tool of coercion and exclusion.

“Increasingly, what you are seeing is that events are going to be organised around proof of vaccination, so proof of vaccination could allow or disallow people who are not vaccinated from accessing certain events, and you are seeing more of that. Hopefully that will also bring some pressure to bear on persons who are not vaccinated,” Tufton said in a Gleaner interview.

“I think that is a trend that is evolving and will evolve even more and I believe rightfully so, because I do think that persons who take the time to get vaccinated and protect themselves should be given the opportunities to partake in activities which give them the protection or do not pose the risk to those who are unvaccinated within that environment.”

Those comments echoed the assertions of Professor Gordon Shirley, chairman of the National Vaccination Operationalization Task Force, who urged the Holness administration to facilitate restricted access to Christmas parties and other entertainment and sports events.

So far, sporting events have generally been closed to fans, with Jamaica’s FIFA World Cup Qualifier against in November a noticeable exception.

The task force issued a statement on Sunday offering a suite of recommendations to improve its management of the pandemic, including the administration of vaccination booster doses to all eligible citizens, enhancement of the home care programme for infected persons, and an increase in the availability of testing, including self-testing.

“Commence with those brands that have already been approved by relevant authorities and which are available in large numbers, including J&J. Pfizer boosters should be introduced once the availability of this vaccine is sufficient and children 12-18 are fully vaccinated. Allow for AstraZeneca boosters as soon as approved by the relevant authorities,” the task force said.

The group also called for the acquisition of the new antiviral drugs as soon as possible to allow for the treatment of persons immediately upon being diagnosed as being infected.

In the meantime, the MOHW is continuing its efforts to make outlets available through the provision of fixed sites, home delivery for the disabled, and the use of private doctors.

Additionally, Tufton revealed that the ministry is also in the process of ordering more buses to serve as mobile clinics, which will come on stream in another few weeks.

Fewer than one in four Jamaicans has received a first vaccine dose.

According to the ministry’s vaccination tracker, 1,129,743 doses of various vaccines have been given. In total, 609,732 people have received their first dose, 449,454 persons have received their second dose, and 70,557 have received the single-dose J&J.

However, an estimated 300,000 vaccines have been discarded due to them expiring.

Tufton sought to play down the waste, saying the ratios were within the global benchmark of 10-30 per cent.

The China-manufactured Sinopharm has become the latest addition to the current list of available vaccines, which include AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. Approximately 100,000 Sinopharm doses were gifted by Beijing, while another 100,000 were purchased.

This vaccine will become available to the public on Monday.

While declining to forecast take-up of Sinopharm, Tufton explained that offering various options was one means of increasing vaccine compliance.

“We understand that preference is a feature of take-up, so to encourage take-up, we have accommodated different brands … . We can’t say specifically what the demand is likely to be, but in keeping with the principle of offering options to the public, we purchased it,” he said.