'So far, so good'

Health officials say day one of the anxiously anticipated second roll-out of Pfizer vaccines got off to an encouraging start, as Jamaicans turned up yesterday at vaccination sites across the island to receive their second jab.

Some 80,000 people who had received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and awaiting their second dose in three weeks had been forced to wait several more weeks as the stock of US-donated Pfizer doses were depleted, with shots being given to those in the 12-18 age group and adults alike.

The Government was criticised for deviating from the original plan of giving the shots to eligible children in order to pave a path for the resumption of face-to-face classes at schools. In defence, the health and wellness ministry said the intent was never to single out any one group for vaccination, but to prioritise the most vulnerable.

Last week, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton said the ministry’s now revised policy would prioritise those due second shots, and the 12-18 cohort for first doses. He warned people looking to get a first dose of Pfizer not to go to vaccination sites as the shots would be rationed, according to appointments, for those due second doses only.

“If you don’t have an appointment, it is best not to turn up. We will stock at locations the numbers of vaccines that are linked to an appointment,” Dr Tufton said at the ministry’s weekly COVID update press conference.

Last Thursday, Jamaica received 100,600 doses of Pfizer vaccines, more than 45,600 donated by the Government of Suriname, and the remainder sourced through the Government’s paid arrangement with the COVAX facility.

Yesterday, the ministry announced the arrival of 369,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, saying that the shipment was a gift from the Government and people of Canada. The ministry also said that and said that another 204,000 doses of Pfizer are expected to arrive in the country tomorrow.

“These vaccines, as previously announced, will be used to inoculate members of the population, who are awaiting their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The balance will be prioritised for children 12-17 years old,” the ministry said.

Yesterday, Dr Tufton told the Observer that the administration of the vaccines was already off to a smooth start.

“So far, so good,” he said at the handing over of an ambulance to Mandeville Regional Hospital by the Japanese Government.

“We had a little situation at St Joseph’s Hospital because more people came than who had appointments, so I went down there, we got it sorted out,” he added, noting that the vaccines were being administered at now-familiar sites such as St Joseph’s Hospital, Good Samaritan Inn, the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre in St Andrew, and sites across other parishes.

Clinical lead for the national vaccination programme and director of family health services in the ministry Dr Melody Ennis also told the Observer, “I think it’s been positive; persons are coming out, persons are making their appointments.”

No figures relating to the number of doses administered were available up to late evening.

Tufton reiterated that the doses will be administered to those who are eligible.

“We will serve everybody, but those who don’t have appointments will have to wait,” he said.

Meanwhile, 185,000 AstraZeneca doses expired on October 31 and are to be discarded. Dr Ennis said that the doses have been removed from stock to ensure that there is no mixing with new stock, but the expired doses will be discarded only after an audit has been done.

Asked if Jamaica is at risk of countries thinking twice about donating vaccines, due to the slow pace of vaccination, and hundreds of thousands of doses expiring for the second time since the national vaccination programme began, Dr Ennis stressed that a 10-30 per cent wastage is usually factored.

“Our donors are also aware that we had received vaccines with short expiration dates. I have not seen where there is any hesitation at offering Jamaica vaccines. Actually, other countries continue to offer us vaccines,” she said.

Just over 100,000 more doses of AstraZeneca vaccines will expire at the end of November.

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