PSOJ urges a unified approach in the vaccination effort

The Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) is sounding a little exasperated, and who can blame them? I attended a press briefing by the Ministry of Health and Wellness this evening (surprisingly, very poorly attended by the media), and came away with the feeling that we are plodding along, doing more of the same – and planning another vaccination blitz for the upcoming holiday weekend. However, to quote Health Minister Christopher Tufton at this evening’s press briefing, “We cannot continue in this vein.” Using an oddly appropriate medical term!

A slide from this evening’s press briefing. Our “R” (transmission) rate is around 0.7 – 0.8

Seriously, though, we cannot keep “edging forward” like this, in Minister Tufton’s words. We are making too little progress, and far too slowly. Meanwhile, the “vaccine hesitant” are being swayed by misinformation and a continuous outpouring of new “theories” from various sources. It is relentless.

This is now turning into an anti-vaccine mandate mood, exemplified by the Staff Association at National Commercial Bank, which a few days sent a letter to its employees requiring them to either take the COVID-19 vaccine or submit weekly negative tests at their expense. The employees’ representative made a couple of totally inaccurate statements, including that there are “not enough vaccines.” Will they take legal action?

Close to 80 percent of the population is unvaccinated.

So basically, the vaccination drive is faltering, unable to stand up against a wave of negativity which has strong elements of apathy (“people are tired of COVID-19, lockdowns etc”); selfishness (“I’m all right, and I have the right to party!”); denial (“I don’t know anyone who got sick”); and sheer ignorance (all kinds of nonsensical talk purveyed by so-called pastors and WhatsApp groups). Listening to a caller to a radio station this morning was like a powerful slap in the face to grieving families, with over 2,000 deaths now recorded on our small island; to those still suffering the effects of “long COVID,” which are very real; and to all the hard-working health workers trying to save lives. You hear it every day.

The 60- to 80 year-olds are making the most progress in terms of vaccinations, but around 60 percent remain unvaccinated.

The main point of the PSOJ’s article, though, is that leadership is faltering – and yes, we are talking about politicians. There are mixed messages. This is not helping at all. I was extremely disappointed by Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s recent comments. He argued that Jamaicans should not be mandated to take the vaccine because neither the Government nor the manufacturers can indemnify the vaccinated person against bad side effects. A few weeks ago, he was urging people to take the vaccine and confirmed that he and his ministers-in-waiting had all been vaccinated! Today’s Gleaner editorial sums up my sentiments quite well. Coupled with Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ own extremely cautious, confusing approach – dropping hints, mainly – it is all discouraging and muddled.

Well, you know what to do, vaccine-hesitant folks, to change this situation that you are so tired of. Get vaccinated. Otherwise, we could continue floundering around in this limbo for a very long time.

And by the way, the National COVID19 Vaccination Operationalisation Task Force needs to get on with it!

Here are the PSOJ’s comments:

UNIFIED APPROACH TO COVID-19 RESPONSE AND RECOVERY NEEDED

Kingston, Jamaica – 14 October 2021: With less than 20% of the country fully or partially vaccinated, Jamaica’s COVID19 vaccination programme has underperformed, and the country is desperately behind in achieving our target of 65% of the population being immunized by March 2022. Vaccines are the best-proven method to save lives and recover economically. Continued restrictions and lockdown are not sustainable.  

Political Maturity Required  

The Opposition recently announced that it is not in support of vaccine mandates at this time and the Prime Minister has signalled that a policy will be implemented after the Government’s public education campaign.  

We are in an economic and health crisis and Jamaica cannot afford for the vaccination programme to become politicized.  When we consider that the country recently discarded thousands of doses of vaccines and based on the continued low take-up, is on track to discard even more, it is disheartening. As such, the Government, which includes the Opposition must demonstrate the required political maturity to consult and determine a unified approach to salvaging our vaccination programme and accelerate the country’s social and economic recovery.

Jamaica Grappling with National COVID 19 Vaccine Position 

With 54% of the population indicating they are not willing to take the vaccine at this time, the Government, private sector and civil society are grappling with how, if and when a mandate should be introduced. Both parties need to jointly determine and inform the country of a common position on a national COVID19 vaccine policy. 

The Prime Minister has been signalling that there needs to be a change in the strategies being used to manage the pandemic. In moving towards this direction, we recommend the use of creative strategies such as the introduction of ‘safe zones’ similar to what has been implemented in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados as a possible option.  

Private Sector and Government must implement Vaccine Workplace Policies  

Private sector leaders and entities have started to take uncertain but necessary steps to introduce vaccination workplace policies in an effort to protect the health and safety of employees and customers.  

The Government must also recognise the huge responsibility it has as the single largest employer in Jamaica with approximately 120,000 in its employ. The Government must begin the introduction of vaccine workplace policies to keep its workforce and the general public which it serves as safe as possible.   

National COVID19 Vaccination Operationalisation Task Force  

The PSOJ welcomed the formation of the National COVID19 Vaccination Operationalisation Task Force and we look forward to the recommendations being adopted and implemented in the shortest possible time frame to increase our vaccination rate.  

We once again reiterate our calls for a unified position from the political directorate on the matter. We are in a crisis situation and if there was a time for a unified and bipartisan strategy it is now.

The situation as of October 14, 2021.

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