Now COVID-19 vaccines are here in Jamaica, some of us would still prefer to party but – just get vaccinated

The Delta variant has “officially” arrived, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has announced. Twenty-two out of forty samples were returned from the Caribbean Public Health Agency. We are in the early stages of the dreaded Third Wave. Already, it is terrible. As all this is happening, we are also struggling with a wave of anti-vaccination propaganda (politely called “vaccine hesitancy”) dissemination by an unknown person or persons on Facebook or “forwarded many times” on WhatsApp. Did we want the vaccine doses, after all? We have plenty, for now.

Many of us, it seems, would prefer to believe a stranger on the Internet than our own doctors, who are working so hard, at this moment. And if the “hesitants” fall sick, they will trust the same doctors whom they ignore to make them better.

The Prime Minister announced new measures under the Disaster Risk Management Act in a 2 1/2 hour-long press briefing on Thursday evening.

So now, as announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, we have seven “no movement days” coming up, starting tomorrow. The privileged ones are settling down at home for cooking marathons, Netflix binges, leisurely gardening sessions, and more. The less well-off will manage as best they can.

And there is more. With the spectre of the “Dream Weekend” over the Emancipation/Independence Day holiday still hovering in the background, many are putting the blame for our skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister (not, it is to be noted, Health and Wellness Minister Christopher Tufton). In hindsight, permission should not have been given for this event, given the fact that numbers were already rising. The permit could have been withdrawn. Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie said that the holiday parties (there were others) were monitored and were 59.3 percent compliant with COVID-19 protocols. He described this as “fair”, but let’s face it. It only takes a couple of partygoers who have had a few drinks and want to indulge in some crazy, close-up dancing for the whole thing to go out of the window! Curiously, the media were blocked from covering Dream Weekend, although a few managed to find a way in. But the “dreamers” were not the only transgressors, just the most high profile.

And in Montego Bay today…not much happening here in terms of COVID protocols. Of course, these could be tourists, local people or a mixture. It’s quite likely that the wealthier Jamaicans will, however, use the upcoming three-day lockdown as holiday time, and escape to a hotel or villa on the north coast! (Photo: Twitter)

This all makes me wonder whether we have learned anything from the summer of 2020, when we read this headline: Holiday parties and gatherings likely led to current COVID spike – CMO Remember?

Meanwhile, as the finger pointing and hand wringing continues, the first tranche (208,260 doses) of a substantial shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, donated by the U.S. Government, arrived – so now we can get our schoolchildren over the age of 12 years vaccinated, and this began today. This is a mad scramble before the official start of the school year, September 1. So the kids are priority, and today (the first day) the turnout has been reportedly fairly good.

However, again the complexities of the vaccine rollout have emerged: it appears that no adults can be vaccinated today, although some – even senior citizens – showed up and had to be turned away. Of course, this is a concern; but the logistics and planning of the whole vaccination drive has sometimes defeated the Ministry, despite their best efforts. Part of the problem is a lack of resources – especially of the human kind – and the challenge of making the best use of health workers.

Speaking of health care workers – the plaintive messages on social media from those working on the front line in hospitals are disconcerting. They talk about working very long hours without even a coffee break; dead bodies being wheeled out; a growing shortage of beds; and more and more COVID patients arriving. Perhaps the “anti-vaxxers” (to whatever degree) should read some of these messages. Our hospitals, and those who work in them, are stretched to the limit.

Minister of Education, Youth & Information Fayval Williams talks to a parent at the vaccination center in the National Arena in Kingston, where children aged 12 – 18 years were getting their doses today. (Photo: Twitter)

With the COVID numbers soaring – and believe me, they are soaring, whether it is due to the Delta or the Dream – administering the vaccine rollout, on top of the hospital pressures, must be a logistical nightmare.

As for the “Hesitants” – some of those who were going to “wait and see” seem to be coming off the fence; perhaps because they know someone who is suffering from COVID (which, according to the Chief Medical Officer, is now in 3/4 of our communities across the island). Others, such as the enormously influential deejay Buju Banton (what happened to him in the U.S. prison? He has never made sense to me since his return) continue to peddle nonsense on their various social media platforms. In fact, Mr. Banton was fact-checked by Instagram recently, and found wanting. Many of these may be beyond reaching. But I am happy to see that quite a few Jamaicans have been persuaded – perhaps not by social media posts, but by concerned family members, friends, sometimes employers. Also, some Jamaican dancehall figures, including Ding Dong and Mr. Lex have got themselves vaccinated and are actively encouraging their fans to follow suit. We need more of these popular figures to step up to the plate.

I loved former High Commissioner to London and businesswoman Aloun Ndombet-Assamba’s meme, with her infectious smile. She got her second dose of AstraZeneca recently.

And so it goes on. Every day there is some new twist to the story of COVID-19 in Jamaica. For the Ministry of Health and Wellness, it must be like juggling with too many balls in the air. One of them is sure to drop but they have to scoop it up and carry on. And so we do.

I will attempt to address (and refute) the arguments against vaccination in a later post. However, as Professor Peter Figueroa of the University of the West Indies said on radio a few days ago – perhaps the issue isn’t hesitancy at all. It’s access. Let’s do all we can to encourage and assist people who need to get to the various vaccination centres to do so. Not everyone can afford the bus or taxi fare. Not everyone knows where to go, or what is needed, or how to make an appointment.

What we need now (to use a term from the Michael Manley era) is to mobilize people to get vaccinated. Ironically and very sadly, the Minister of National Mobilization under Manley was former Member of Parliament DK Duncan, who passed away from COVID in September, 2020.

We have had more than enough deaths now – a total of 1,371 since the pandemic began. In case you missed the key message of this post it is this: get vaccinated, and get others vaccinated – including your teenage children.

The first of three tranches of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at Norman Manley Airport in Kingston on Thursday, August 19, for the benefit of our high school kids. (Photo: US Embassy/Twitter)

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