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COVID-19 vaccination task force calls for measures to limit impact of possible fourth wave

Published:Sunday | December 5, 2021 | 1:03 PM
The task force is asserting that given the very low vaccination rate in the population, Jamaica is at high risk of experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections early in the New Year.

The National COVID-19 Vaccination Operationalisation Task Force says the Government should move to implement enhanced measures to reduce the impact of a possible fourth wave of the virus in Jamaica.

The task force is asserting that given the very low vaccination rate in the population, Jamaica is at high risk of experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections early in the New Year.

READ: Fourth COVID wave may hit by year end

As of December 3, over 1.1 million doses of vaccines have been administered; approximately 517,000 persons have been fully vaccinated, and 677,000 persons have received at least one dose, the task force stated.

It highlighted that several countries are experiencing a fourth wave of infections which is leading to an upsurge in the level of hospitalisations and noted the threat of the new Omicron variant.

The task force said it recently met with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton and made a number of recommendations for consideration mainly directed at anticipating the fourth wave and taking steps to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

The main recommendations are as follows:

* Reinforce public messaging regarding importance of vaccination and adherence to infection prevention protocols particularly in the context of a high risk of a fourth wave. Messaging should be easily understood by all groups of Jamaicans and should be delivered by trusted and credible voices. Misinformation, which often drowns out the scientific viewpoint, must be targeted and debunked. The message is, every eligible Jamaican should choose to be vaccinated.

* Specifically focus on the most vulnerable population, that is, over 60 as well as the immunocompromised. Efforts must be redoubled to promote vaccination, particularly among the most vulnerable, including the elderly, the immunocompromised and persons with comorbidities.

* Implement vaccination booster doses to all eligible citizens. 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.

* Focus on enhancing the current Home Care Programme for infected persons. The Ministry of Health and Wellness should expand and formalise its Home Care Programme to enable persons who do not require hospitalisation to recover at home. The provision of Home Care medical packages should, with appropriate instructions for self-care, be considered. The process of responding to queries for infected persons and their families via hotlines should be expanded. Consideration should also be given the implementation of a formal telemedicine programme, supplemented by private doctors, to monitor the clinical progress of patients and to arrange for hospital transfers if necessary. We emphasise that proper monitoring of persons under the Home Care Programme is critical to ensure timely intervention, including hospitalisation, if required.

* Increase availability of testing, including self-testing. The high cost and limited availability of testing currently serve as deterrents to widespread and frequent testing. The licensing, importation and widespread distribution of home testing kits should be expedited. In addition, the certification of an increased number of testing centres should be accelerated. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has already announced support for both. We encourage close co-ordination between the private sector and the Ministry to get them implemented in the shortest time possible. The goal is to reduce the cost and improve the ease of testing. Early diagnosis is key to limiting spread and also to the success of the Home Care Programme.

* Acquire the new antiviral drugs as soon as possible. This will allow for the treatment of persons immediately upon being diagnosed as being infected. This will reduce the rate of hospitalisation and death.

* Introduce “vaccination or test” programmes in customer-facing public entities and in key economic sectors. Legal advice suggests that the Courts are likely to hold that carefully designed policies to protect public health are demonstrably justified in a “free and democratic society” and are therefore enforceable. The advice also indicated that once policies are properly designed and correct procedural steps are taken to implement the policies, it is very unlikely that a judicial review challenged would succeed or that it would prevent the implementation of the policies. The Government should ensure that the details of the policies are reasonable and give due consideration to the varying circumstances that may apply to different persons, including carefully designed consequences for failing to be vaccinated and exemptions for those unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons. In designing the policies, the Government should consider the terms of similar policies that have been implemented in other jurisdictions with similar legal and constitutional systems.

The task force said that proactivity is critical to the restoration of the full productivity of Jamaica's economy and the preservation of the lives of citizens.

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