Private sector not seeking to cash in on vaccine efforts, says Zacca

CHAIRMAN of the private sector vaccine initiative Christopher Zacca says the sector is not seeking to cash in on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts as it is interested only in assisting the Government and the country to get out of the health crisis.

The vaccine initiative is being spearheaded by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), and the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA).

“The primary objective is to increase the velocity of vaccination in this country and to vaccinate as many people as possible in the shortest possible time; so our objective and the objectives of the Ministry [of Health] are aligned. Our objectives are not to make money out of this. We are guided totally by the policies and procedures of the Ministry of Health and Wellness,” he insisted.

Zacca, a former president of the PSOJ, was speaking last week at a meeting of the joint select committee of Parliament, which is reviewing the novel coronavirus pandemic and related matters. He said that despite the scepticism surrounding vaccination, there is more demand than supply, and the sector groups are focusing on adding resources to those of the Government to assist with logistics, software, and other needs. He said so far the sector has provided $14 million in cash and kind toward the effort.“And that’s about it. There are more questions than answers because we’re at the start of this, we are all learning. But there is nothing sinister, it’s all about helping the country as the private sector has always stood up to do,” Zacca stated.He noted that when vaccine supply becomes more readily available and the Government has fulfilled the first phase of its mandate, the private sector, under the supervision of the ministry, wants to be engaged to roll out additional vaccination sites with its resources, to target the productive sectors.

He said stakeholders in the sector are “ready to go”, and that, at this point, there are easily at least 600,000 people, who are willing to be vaccinated.

Zacca also stressed that there would be no move to force people within its membership into taking the vaccine, nor would there be any repercussions for those who refuse. “In our surveys, there is about 25 per cent hard core who say they won’t take it, but if we get 75 [per cent] we think we’ll be good,” he said.The Ministry of Health and Wellness entered a memorandum of understanding with the private sector groups in February, aimed at speeding up the procurement and administration of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme.Countries with less means have been scrambling to secure vaccines as rich countries with the resources to fund bilateral arrangements have dominated procurement.In January when the private sector groups indicated that they wanted in on the vaccination programme, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton endorsed the gesture. He said that this would bump up the pool of vaccines available to the country, without posing a threat to the Government’s national thrust.

Dr Tufton said public and private health care already coexist and would therefore not be ruled out for the COVID-19 vaccination programme: “There may be some that can afford to pay for it – and they should – I would encourage it frankly speaking. For those who can’t, the public health system has an obligation to ensure that they get.”The New York Times reported recently that less than 0.1 per cent of COVID-19 vaccines administered worldwide have gone to low-income countries, compared to 86 per cent to high and upper middle-income countries.

— Alphea Saunders

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