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PM convinced Ja can manufacture vaccines, but…


Prime Minister Andrew Holness says he is committed to giving more focus to research and development as he’s convinced that Jamaicans have the capacity to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs, such as vaccines, in much the same way as other countries in this region and further afield.

“Jamaica has the human capacity to do it. The question is one of economics do we have the scale to do it,” Holness argued in an interview with the Jamaica Observer on April 8 at Jamaica House.

“Then there is the issue of, have we the history and social capital and entrepreneurial capital invested in doing these kinds of developments… we have made drugs in Jamaica before, but it has not been elevated to the level where it has become an economic enterprise,” he noted.

Holness was responding to the Observer‘s query about his Government’s investment in science and the potential economic spin-offs to Jamaica from research and development that are being enjoyed by other countries.

The Observer had pointed specifically to India, regarded as the largest vaccine-producing nation in the world, and the fact that the Serum Institute of India is producing COVID-19 vaccines which are now in heavy demand because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Serum is the world’s largest vaccine-producing company, as it manufactures jabs for diphtheria, measles, hepatitis, tetanus, and many other diseases. The company specialises in generic versions and exports to 170 countries.

Health experts estimate that two-thirds of the world’s children are inoculated with vaccines manufactured by Serum.

Additionally, Bharat Biotech, Panacea Biotech, Sanofi’s Shanta Biotech, Biological E, Hester Biosciences and Zydus Cadila, are all located in India and reportedly have an installed capacity to manufacture 8.2 billion doses of different vaccines annually.

In this region, wire service reports earlier this year said that Mexico and Argentina have an agreement with AstraZeneca to produce its COVID-19 vaccine for eventual distribution of 250 million doses in Latin America, with financial support from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s foundation.

Reuters news agency also reported that Mexico was in talks to host part of a phase III clinical trial for a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine, pending authorisation from health regulator Cofepris.

Admitting that, like the Observer, he is a bit narked that Jamaica is not benefiting from this source of foreign exchange, Holness noted the economic investment necessary for that scale of manufacturing, but argued that it can be done.

“For Jamaica, I believe we need to have some residual capacities in this regard and we need to be able to build partnerships. So it might not be Jamaica alone but we could have one element of the intellectual property and someone else has another element and we partner where we have mutual interest. So there are ways to do it,” he said.

“So yes, I would work towards the day when Jamaica can be one of the countries in the world that stand up and say ‘Yes, we have a vaccine as well.’ That is something we must aspire to and we should never be afraid of aspiring to that, even if there are persons in our society who are self-doubting, myopic and just lack consciousness,” Holness said.

He added, though, that if his Government were to give top priority to that type of investment at this time he was sure the Administration would be criticised. “You’d hear ‘Why is Jamaica going to look about that when people ah starve?’” he said.

“I have to deal with that every day, because we have an intellectual class that has misled this country for decades to get our people seeing themselves as lesser than they are, as if we could not achieve the highest standards…We can, but it’s as if we don’t believe in ourselves,” the prime minister said.

He pointed to the inadequacy of the current Parliament building to emphasise his point about the country operating and providing services at a higher level.

“Our public administration, our laws, our policymaking are being done in a building that was built for a municipal corporation that, as the country grows, cannot provide the services that the very people who criticise a new Parliament [building] are asking for.

“It cannot provide the level of parliamentary oversight that is required because we only have the main hall and one or two rooms where we have close to 19 committees that should be meeting, but the same people criticise and say Parliament is not working,” Holness argued.

“In other words, when we look at ourselves as Jamaicans and our country, what is it that will elevate the society and lift everyone? Is it the common knowledge and the common approach, or does it take a higher level of foresight as to how we deploy, how we allocate our resources?” he questioned.

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