Sun | May 16, 2021

Letter of the Day|Vaccinating 5,500 government officials is a betrayal

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2021 | 12:12 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Reading information in the press from the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) or the Office of the Prime Minister about the intended roll-out of the Government’s vaccination programme makes me feel like it is a game of smoke and mirrors or of tilting at windmills.

A picture emerges that there was no systematic approach to the procurement of the notional four million doses of vaccine required to achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 65 per cent of the Jamaican people. It is obvious to all that the big, rich countries were always going to hog the available supplies of vaccines and corral them for their countries alone. It seems to me that poor, smaller countries, like Jamaica, had to force themselves in line to procure doses of the precious, life-saving commodity for their people.

COVAX was chosen as the preferred vehicle: Jamaica, along with 172 other countries, got in line to receive from the 700 million doses. Other countries with even less size or resources, but more enterprising than Jamaica, tried bilateral sources. Barbados and Dominica got 100,000 and 70,000 doses, respectively, from India, others got from China and Russia, and even Cuba has made arrangements with others for supplies.

SCARCE BENEFIT

The Opposition has accused the Government of being slow out of the blocks, or worse, waiting to get lucky. As a result, public pronouncements about the supplies of vaccine have appeared haphazard, and worse, resorting to the worst political tendencies of treating vaccines as scarce benefit and political spoils. I say so because the arithmetic does not add up: we will receive 50,000 AstraZeneca from India today, 14,400 from COVAX next Wednesday, 100,000 from the private sector from early April, and beginning in April, 1.8 million from some African platform. The Gleaner tells us that we will however receive 974,000 doses. As you can see, the numbers are all over the place. Jamaica is not a math-based society, so numbers befuddle us anyway.

On the other hand, by placing an amorphous group of 5,500 government officials at the top of the priority list to receive from the first batch of vaccine, the Government has betrayed a self-serving intent of the entire charade. The justification is of course that the group is vital to the process of government and, I suppose, governance. While I concede that they should be included, it seems to me that we are dealing with a public health pandemic, which means that priorities are to be determined by degrees of vulnerability. My issue is that, by placing so-called government officials at the very top of the list betrays the nature of the Government’s decision-making. Whatever happens to the rest of us, they themselves will be already immunised against the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It like the announcement that Donald Trump and Melania received their vaccinations in January before leaving the White House, but wanted no announcement made so as not to offend his anti-vaccine supporters.

PREFERRED APPROACH

Further, it indicates the degree of contempt and cynicism being demonstrated by the members of the administration. They know that they can manage the information and minimise any fallout from preferring themselves. Their preferred approach is opaque and non-transparent. The approach devised by the MOHW is one that allows it to privilege connected parties.

Very little of the information provided to the public where the vaccination roll-out is concerned is credible. But I regard the 1.8 million doses from the African platform to be regarded with incredulity. Africa is a continent, not a country. From which country in Africa is the vaccine being procured? Still worse, Africa does not manufacture vaccine, so from where are the vaccines being manufactured? Why would Jamaica be a beneficiary of this programme, and who else in the Caribbean is? No country in Africa has an adequate supply of vaccines, so why would they give us from their meagre supplies? Is this a hoax? What makes it credible any at all? Is the Holness administration counting on the naivete of the Jamaican people, or is it counting on its superior PR infrastructure, or, still worse, its unassailable majority in the Parliament, or all of the above? Why is it being so self-serving and random in a matter so vital to the recovery of the Jamaican economy and the health of the Jamaican people? Vaccine hesitancy is not at 60 per cent; by the time this gambit is over, it will be much higher.

GARNETT ROPER

garnettroper@gmail.com