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COVID-19 black market fear


SINCE the pandemic began, a black market has opened up selling all things COVID-19 from protective gear to antigen tests — and now vaccines.

The Jamaica Observer has learnt that the unauthorised sale of COVID-19 vaccines is being done by a private doctor for $4,000 per jab.

This revelation comes mere days after 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines, donated by the Government of India, arrived in the island on Monday, March 8.

Dr Mindi Fitz-Henley, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, told the Sunday Observer that she heard a report on day one of the long-awaited vaccine roll-out, which alleged that a health care professional was offering vaccines for sale.

“I had heard a report. There was a lady who was saying that her doctor is able to give COVID vaccines if anybody wants, for $4,000. And so, that was a concern. And this is a part of the reason why the ministry is streamlining this initiative because, as you can imagine, these are the things that we’re afraid will happen.

“At this point, because of fear and other reasons, we have to ensure that things are being properly done,” she said in reference to the vaccination schedule created and implemented by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

When contacted, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton was surprised to hear of the development and said he would need to make further checks, while questioning where the doctors would have received access to the vaccines.

But a source close to the Sunday Observer said it was not surprising, as for decades there has been a fledging, local medical black market. The source said things like abortion pills, drugs not approved for local use, and drugs that are strictly dispensed by medication are easily accessed through these mediums.

The source, however, said he was convinced that this development is not from an actual doctor and might just be someone seeking to make quick money from vulnerable individuals and putting the medical fraternity in disrepute.

Meanwhile, Dr Andrew Manning, president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) said he was unaware that there was a COVID-19 vaccine black market, but urged extreme caution to individuals who may be tempted to pay the $4,000 and purchase their vaccine in a back door deal.

“People need to be very mindful. The distribution and administration of vaccines is being done by the Ministry of Health and Wellness via the different regional health authorities and that’s where it’s at, at the moment,” Dr Manning said.

“I don’t know about it, but I would urge extreme caution. The vaccines have to be stored and maintained at certain temperatures, depending on the vaccine. We have the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is shipped at certain temperatures. The Pfizer and Moderna would have to be done at a different temperature,” the MAJ president said.

Dr Manning further explained that the vaccines must be transported and kept at a certain temperature until it is thawed and ready to use. He said that this is not something many people can do, because of the equipment required.

“You would have heard people talking about the cold chain supply and it is not easy to maintain that unless you have the right things and know-how in place. The other thing is that we have had reports of persons saying they have vaccines available and it’s not proven vaccines. And really, if you are getting it from an unknown source you would have to question the utility and safety of that, unless it is from an approved source,” he said.

The MAJ president maintained that people should get their vaccines through the approved channels, which are in controlled environments that follow safety protocols.

“It has to be done under set criteria and guidelines, so we would urge persons to be cautious. I know people would be desperate to get the vaccines but the safest thing to do is wait until you can get it through the proper channels,” Dr Manning said.

 

– Additional reporting by Romardo Lyons.

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