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Shortage of vaccines a major worry


TWO weeks after confirming that there were enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to complete the process for individuals who received their first shot in March and April, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has made an about-turn regarding that pronouncement.

On May 28 Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the ministry, told the Jamaica Observer that “we have enough for the second doses for the persons who received doses in March and April”.

But on Thursday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told journalists during the weekly virtual COVID Conversations press conference that the ministry will be prioritising people aged 50 years and over for the second dose of the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine.

Vaccine blitz events resumed yesterday in nine parishes.

“We have to focus on the most vulnerable, and the most vulnerable by age would be 50 and older. The second dose has to be a priority based on availability, and so we have to give it to those who require it. The challenge we have is the availability of vaccines,” said Tufton.

More than 220,000 Jamaicans have received at least one dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, journalists were told on Thursday, with 51,908 of this number being fully vaccinated.

The latter figure indicates that only 3.3 per cent of the population have been vaccinated.

The ministry had authorised, up to last weekend, the administering of first doses to persons who were interested, the Sunday Observer can report.

“Vaccine represents a critical component of that [reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus] and we have been gradually inoculating our population. A lot of what we do is a function of the availability of the vaccines, and once we have it then we take it and make it available. Then, there is the issue of access to the population — and we have been working on a plan to improve the plan so that all Jamaicans who qualify will have access,” said Tufton, who added that vaccines are not as available as “we would like [but] we do believe, however, that things will get better”.

He said Jamaica is expected to benefit from the 25 million doses of the vaccine being donated by the United States to countries at a disadvantage in terms of sourcing, though he did not mention the brand being donated.

Individuals due for second shots have only been given Oxford-AstraZeneca, which has not been approved for use in the United States.

The donations are expected to come in by month-end, Tufton said.

“We’re also anticipating another shipment through the COVAX facility and our agency, the National Health Fund, continues to negotiate the purchase of vaccines and explore other potential sources. Unfortunately, we can’t give any more specific information on time. We have to give a range because vaccines are still a scarce commodity globally based on what is happening in the world, based on those who have immediate access or first preference because of where production facilities are [and] because of the nationalities of the manufacturers. We, therefore, have to manage the process.

“It’s a difficult management because in a sense, we can’t demand and there is no automatic availability. We have a need; we want the vaccines. But, we have to negotiate access based on what is available and the willingness of the manufacturers to make it available,” said Tufton.

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