Gov’t plugs loophole allowing people to skip vaccination line

HEALTH officials are insisting they have “cauterised” the situation which resulted in dozens of Jamaicans who were not yet scheduled to get the COVID-19 vaccine being on the receiving end over the past two weeks in the initial roll-out of Government’s vaccination programme.

Under the first phase of the programme, which is aiming to have 65 per cent of the Jamaican population inoculated, health-care workers and people over 75 years old, the police, members of the military and other front line workers were first in line followed by Cabinet members, parliamentarians, heads of ministries and Government agencies who were at least 60 years of age.

However, during the process reports emerged that a number of individuals who did not make the priority list for this phase had somehow managed to get the shots. This was partly due to health ministry protocols which dictate that once a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is opened, all 10 or 11 doses it contains must be used.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health Dunstan Bryan, speaking during the weekly press briefing held by the entity on Tuesday said, “we have since resolved this issue and we believe we have cauterised this particular problem, and we now have a system in place with a call-out list where only persons in specific groups to be vaccinated are vaccinated”.

In the meantime, he said the drive to get Jamaicans vaccinated has been going according to plan, with 94 per cent of the persons targeted for week one immunised and 91 per cent for week two.

“Our target for the month is 26,512 and we have achieved 56 per cent of that target overall,” Bryan said, noting that women comprised 60 per cent of this figure and males 40 per cent, with the majority falling in the 30 to 59 age group. He said the elderly followed closely with just over 25 per cent of that population vaccinated. Persons in Kington and St Andrew and St Catherine make up the majority of the overall recipients.

Meanwhile, more than 14,000 health-care workers have received their jabs, 68 per cent of that target group, the permanent secretary disclosed.

And commenting on the web-based appointment system launched on Monday, he said of the 31,000 vaccination slots available of 5:00 am Tuesday, more than 4,800 persons have made appointments on the system.

“We are encouraging persons to use the online portal,” Bryan said, adding that individuals who found this challenging could utilise the call centre established by calling 888-ONE-LOVE.

“The majority of persons who made the appointments were from the senior citizens group along with some health care workers and Jamaica Defence Force and Jamaica Constabulary Force officers who have made appointments,” Bryan said, noting that overall there were some 128,000 hits on the site for vaccination.

He also responded to complaints that individuals were unable to access appointments.

“The site issued 15,800 passwords — persons who actually tried to engage — and the call centre fielded approximately 4,000 calls for the day. What that says, especially for the one-time password, is that there are a lot of persons who are going on to the system who are not in the priority group at this time and so they would have gone into the system, tried to register and were not allowed to because they are not in the priority group being attended to at this time which is JCF, JDF, persons 75 years and over,” Bryan explained.

“We want to say, ‘Be patient; we want to unclog the system. If you are not in any of the groups being dealt with at this time, do not try to register.’ It does create a lot of traffic overall [but] I think we had a very good day of the launch of the information system,” he said.

In the meantime, individuals in the St Catherine area were yesterday able to visit vaccination sites in that parish.

“…We were to have centres operating on the weekends but because of the implementation of the curfew and the logistic challenge, some of those centres were not available for appointment.”

The Greater Portmore Health Centre and Portmore Seventh-day Adventist Church were among vaccination sites in the parish.

The Government kicked off its vaccination programme on Wednesday, March 10 after the arrival of 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, donated by the Government of India, arrived in the island on March 8. Jamaica also received a shipment of 14,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines under the COVAX Facility on March 15th.

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