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MAJ says ready to help as Gov’t outlines vaccination programme

With indications by Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton that the Government’s ambitious COVID-19 vaccination roll-out plan stands to be staggered, not by the lack of potions but more by a shortage of personnel to administer the jabs, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) is signalling that its members are ready to help.

Jamaica is scheduled to receive a total 50,000 AstraZeneca vaccines tomorrow courtesy of India, triggering phase one of the Government’s inoculation programme. An additional 14,400 doses under the COVAX facility should reach the island on or before Thursday, March 11, part of an expected 124,800 doses, the remainder of which should arrive by May. All this will be in addition to another 1.8 million doses which should be supplied to Jamaica starting in April under the African medical supply platform.

Dr Tufton, addressing the country during the weekly virtual COVID Conversations news conference yesterday, expressed foreboding as to the administering of the vaccines, especially under the third phase of the programme where an estimated 19,000 jabs per day will be given three days per week.

“We are going to be setting up very large centres… we are going to have to pull on more than just public sector doctors and nurses. In order for us to move the numbers at the pace we would like, we are going to have to depend on the private sector doctors and nurses, retired doctors and nurses, the medical teams at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), for example, and a number of other competent individuals,” Dr Tufton said.

He added that the targets set have been so tailored because “the bottleneck is the technical people to implement”.

“This is not a stamp-and-go arrangement where you just apply a jab and everything is okay. The process is more engaging and does require some technical skills. We have to use persons who are qualified and the truth is, we are limited. Over time it is not going to be a lack of vaccines, because we believe we are making good progress with vaccines. Over time it is going to be more the function of technical persons and the take-up of vaccines,” he told the forum.

Yesterday, MAJ President Dr Andrew Manning said “we have indicated to them that the MAJ stands ready to assist in that capacity because it is all hands on deck. The very first phase is going to be targeting public health nurses and doctors, and even in that aspect we have offered our services. It is going to be a challenge when you get to the other stages because we are talking about much larger numbers, but certainly we stand ready to assist in whatever way possible”.

The MAJ head, in the meantime, said he was confident that the roll-out would go well.

“Certainly it is a complex and very large scale undertaking that has not been done before. So the administration of the first batch is an opportunity on a smaller scale to look and see how things are working out. I m confident, but you have to have a process of continuous analysis because certainly, at the end of the day, we cannot afford to have the vaccines wasted,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Dr Manning further noted that critical to the success of the plan will be clear feedback mechanisms, maintenance of the cold storage supply, and communication.

“Communication is key, because given the system for appointments, you do not want overcrowding on any given day; you want a steady manageable stream of persons to come. I am confident, but we have to monitor and act quickly to deal with any glitches because there are going to be glitches and we have to be able to act quickly,” he noted.

He also urged medical personnel, both in the public and private sectors, to take the vaccine, and encouraged the Government to put plans in place to recruit more personnel and address salaries.

“Down the line the Government is going to look at the remuneration for persons in the field because the other thing they have to look at is the migration from the system. They need to do it as soon as possible. Based on the current crisis there clearly are financial constraints. It is difficult to say exactly when, so I would just say as soon as possible,” he told the Observer.

According to the health ministry, so far, only 30 to 40 per cent of health workers are saying they will take the jabs.

“We want to get that up to a minimum 60 per cent,” Minister Tufton stated. “We have some convincing to do. We want to start with our most important constituents nurses, doctors who are the drivers.”

Yesterday, permanent secretary in the ministry Dunstan Bryan, who said numbers are still being collated for the various groups, told the news conference that an estimated 248,000 individuals are targeted to receive jabs under phase one of the SARS COV-2 vaccine plan between March and June this year.

Phase one will involve Government officials, health workers, the elderly, soldiers, police and individuals in high-contact areas, while phase two will involve hotel workers, those in the transportation, banking, agricultural and manufacturing sectors, with the third phase involving the general population.

“Our target is 65 per cent of the population by March 31, 2022,” Bryan said.

Experts say up to 70 per cent of a population needs to be vaccinated in order for herd immunity to be achieved.

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