Over 25,000 vaccinated in islandwide blitz so far, ministry officials say

OFFICIALS in the Ministry of Health and Wellness yesterday expressed confidence that at least half of the number of Jamaicans targeted for the islandwide four-day vaccination blitz had been inoculated over the weekend.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, who was on-site at National Arena yesterday, said while the final tally had not yet been computed for the day, she was expecting the numbers to be better than Saturday.

“We did over 12,000 vaccinations yesterday (Saturday) across the island, and today looks like we’re going to have a better number. So far I think we would have gone over 2,000 persons vaccinated here alone. We’re expecting today’s number to be more than 15,000,” she said late in the afternoon.

The CMO explained that the inclusion of more people in the target group for vaccination on the second day had triggered the increase in the uptake numbers. Originally the target groups for the blitz were people aged 60 years and over, teachers and other employees of educational institutions, people employed to Jamaica Customs, the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, Jamaica Fire Brigade, Department of Correctional Services, the tourism sector, and those in the priority groups who were previously called upon to get vaccinated.

However, the ministry announced late Saturday evening that anyone over 50 could also get vaccinated, along with individuals at least 40 years old who suffer from co-morbidities, transport sector workers and journalists.

“At some of our sites we wouldn’t have been getting as good a turnout in terms of the over 60s, especially in the rural areas. That is one of the things that really drove the lowering of the age group,” the CMO explained. “We wanted to cover the more vulnerable population so we lowered it to 50, and then we said over 40 with co-morbidities.”

She clarified that there is no specific list of co-morbidities currently being used, as a range of illnesses have to be considered as vulnerabilities to COVID-19.

“We haven’t been turning back anyone. We know that we have a high number of persons with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma and so on, but there are so many other illnesses that people suffer from and we are taking those into consideration as well, especially the illnesses that would affect the organ system,” she said.

A number of the glitches that were experienced on the first day, causing delays in some centres, had been rectified in time for Sunday, helping the process to flow more smoothly at the various sites, she added.

“I spoke to the people at some of the sites and we would have sorted out some of those things during the course of the day yesterday, and so, going into today, they were a lot more prepared so we could increase the capacity,” she said. “Most of those were in terms of human resources so they would have increased their capacity based on what we saw.”

The CMO expressed disappointment that so far there had not been a greater uptake of the vaccine among the 60 and over age group, as the ministry was hoping to vaccinate at least 65 per cent of this category first.

“Maybe in time they will come out. Maybe our expectation that they would have all come out in the blitz was a bit too much, because there is still a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the population. I think we did the right thing in lowering the age group so more people could come out.”

The ministry is hoping to have at least 50,000 people vaccinated by tomorrow —the same day that the recommended shelf life of some of the AstraZeneca vaccines in the country will come to an end.

“We are having the blitz because we want to use them up,” Dr Bisasor-McKenzie said. “We are discussing with the manufacturer in terms of the extension of the shelf life, but we haven’t got a final word as yet, so we’re not waiting on that. If it happens and we hear that the shelf life is extended, then we can use it for a longer period.”

She explained that some countries have already approved the extension of the shelf life of the vaccine for an additional three months on the recommended six, but the ministry is awaiting confirmation before making that decision.

Meanwhile, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton commended the teams of health-care workers across the island who are working to make the process as seamless as possible.

“I also must commend those who came out to get their vaccines. I think it’s a definite show of improved confidence in the process to inoculate the population against COVID-19, and that’s a very positive thing,” Tufton said.

“I do believe, though, that we are still plagued by vaccine hesitancy, and it is going to represent the most significant threat to dealing with COVID-19, and it does require a greater effort from all of us to push for acceptance,” he added. “But I do believe that today was very encouraging — I’m sure that it will be better than yesterday — and the next two days will be similarly good.”

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