Things seem to be happening rather rapidly this year, and it’s hard to keep up. In case any of us are confused or don’t have the current full picture on COVID-19 and the availability of vaccines, etc., I am sharing the text of Minister of Health and Wellness Christopher Tufton’s presentation in the House of Representatives yesterday. I hope it will help.
Meanwhile, in her remarks at a weekly press briefing today (February 3), the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noted that “last week, over 1.8 million people in the Americas became sick with COVID-19 and more than 47,000 died as a result…In the Caribbean, St. Lucia and Barbados reported the highest jump in cases, and as a result, St. Lucia has implemented a 10-day ban on non-essential activities and social gatherings.” Jamaica’s numbers are not encouraging, with hundreds of new cases in the past few days.
And as Minister Tufton said, “This is not the time to be complacent.”
Madam Speaker, in keeping with the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ commitment to keep this Honourable House and the people of Jamaica informed of the latest developments on COVID-19, particularly on the availability of vaccines, I rise to share the latest information on the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
Update on Vaccines in COVAX Facilities
We have been advised by the COVAX facility that the country is set to receive between 146,400 and up to 249,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines by mid to late February 2021. This means that some 125,000 Jamaicans could be receiving vaccines by the end of February into March. Among those to receive the vaccines are our frontline workers, including our nurses and doctors and then our vulnerable persons, chief among these persons 60 years and older.
Madam Speaker, the availability of this vaccine is of course subject to the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing and the indicative amount is based on the current communication from the manufacturers, Serum Institute of India and SK Bioscience.
Madam Speaker, if additional supplies under the COVAX arrangement are received, we will be able to vaccinate some 450,000 Jamaicans by the end of the year.
I must hasten to caution that it is likely that the allocation may need to be adjusted, as the present global circumstances are difficult to anticipate and the variables are constantly evolving.
There are several steps that we must action, Madam Speaker, as Jamaica prepares to receive its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, among them having the necessary indemnity and liability frameworks in place in order to complete the agreement directly with AstraZeneca, as well as finalizing other procurement matters with the COVAX facilities management.
Update on Exploration of Vaccines Outside of COVAX Facility
Madam Speaker, again our commitment has been to explore other options for vaccines outside of the COVAX facility and this, the Ministry of Health & Wellness has begun in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
We have been in discussion with five (5) countries and one additional facility, all of which are at an advanced stage of vaccine development. Madam Speaker, Jamaica has made a formal request to the CARICOM Secretariat, for some 250,000 (258,388) doses of vaccines as determined by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) from the 1.5 Million doses allocated to CARICOM by the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP). Our interest is in the AstraZeneca vaccine from this facility. India also has COVAXIN vaccines available and it will be making some 500,000 doses available to CARICOM. We are awaiting the approval of the WHO of the COVAXIN and the notification of the amount that will be allocated from India for Jamaica.
Madam Speaker, we have also indicated our interest in obtaining information on vaccines from China and Cuba, where the development of vaccines in those countries are at phase three of the trial stage. We await further information on those vaccines as it relates to their officially assessed level of clinical efficacy and the allocation that could become available to Jamaica.
We have also explored, Madam Speaker, the option of obtaining the AstraZeneca vaccines from Mexico and the United Kingdom. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has initiated dialogue with the UK Government, even as we talk with Mexico under our bilateral arrangements, with an option to approaching our negotiation through the intergovernmental mechanism – the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Madam Speaker, our objective from all this exploration, is to expand the pool, so that as many Jamaicans as possible can be vaccinated. This will help to slow the spread of the diseases and reduce the severity of illness for the vulnerable.
Health Promotion and Communications
Madam Speaker, vaccination is a key component of our response to combating the COVID-19 Pandemic and in the coming weeks, it is important that we zone in our communications with our various stakeholders, including members of the public.
Over the next three to five days, I will be meeting with the National Vaccine Commission – that is the group of stakeholders from the various sectors of society; and the National Coordinating Committee, which is the technical working group comprising clinicians and other public health specialists, to finalize our plans to introduce the first set of vaccines in the country.
The Ministry will also convene a meeting with private practitioners from across the island on Sunday, February 7 to discuss their role in the distribution of the vaccines, especially among the high risk groups.
Madam Speaker, we will also intensify our health promotion and communications machinery, beginning with a town hall meeting on Thursday, February 4 to further foster trust of the vaccine; dispel myths and misinformation; provide factual and accurate information about vaccination; and gain public input in the vaccination strategies to be employed. The clinical team and I will also be available for interviews in the print and electronic media, as we all work for acceptance and uptake for the approved COVID-19 vaccine in Jamaica. Madam Speaker, this is critical to slowing the spread of the infection, reducing morbidity and mortality as well as rebuilding the economy.
Adherence to IPC is our real Defense
Madam Speaker, the Ministry is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that safe and effective vaccines are deployed though the continued monitoring of developments relating to COVID-19 vaccines. Our commitment remains – to safeguard the health and well-being of every Jamaican, even as we continue to implore Jamaicans from all walks of life to play their part in reducing the spread of this disease. COVID-19 is still a clear and present danger and is not over.
At this time, vaccines offer protection to only the persons who take the vaccines; therefore every Jamaican must remain vigilant and compliant to the washing of hands or sanitizing frequently, maintain a physical distance at least six feet from others, avoiding crowded situations, always wearing a mask and comply with all the measures under the Disaster Risk Management Act.
Adherence to the infection prevention and control measures are our only real defence against COVID-19, as we continue to see a gradual increase in cases of COVID-19. In the last five days, the country added 538 new cases, with hospitalization on the raise, ranging from 89 to 101 COVID-19 positive patients in hospital in the last 5 days. The number of deaths have increased by 9, while some 8-11 persons daily are considered to be in critical condition.
Madam Speaker, this is not the time for Jamaicans to become complacent. I implore everyone to protect themselves from COVID-19 and at the same time protect each other.