Strong take-up of COVID vaccine in southern region as bed spaces running out

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — There has been a high take-up of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by health care workers in south-central parishes even as the five hospitals in the southern region continue to grapple with bed spaces running out for COVID-19 patients.

Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA) Director Michael Bent told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the region exceeded its vaccine target by about 32 per cent.

“We have surpassed our targets. Up to yesterday (Sunday) we had a target of 1,060 and we have surpassed that with 1,404 people taking the vaccine,” he said.

The SRHA — which has oversight of health facilities in Clarendon, Manchester, and St Elizabeth — has over 3,000 health care workers.

“Persons are a bit hesitant at first, but they are [now] warming up to it, so we are seeing an increase in terms of the responses. Over 60 per cent of [staff] indicated that they want to take it at this time,” said Bent.

“As it is not mandatory, we continue to vaccinate focusing on the health care workers until March 19, but that does not mean that if persons change their mind and want to be vaccinated [after] that they won’t be facilitated,” he explained.

He said there has been no breach in the protocols regarding the administering of the vaccine in the region.

“It is strictly by appointment, because if you do the walk-in it will perhaps lead to chaos,” he stressed.

Police, soldiers and health care workers are being prioritised in the first phase of vaccination by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

Bent said staff at private hospitals have also received the jab.

Meanwhile, the regional director disclosed that the logistics of appointments for other groups are still being worked on.

“… that has not officially started as yet. We have our community health aids in the field who would have been going into the communities and who know the people, including the elderly,” he said.

“We have some dedicated [phone] lines. Also, there should be an app at a national level, so we [will] have verifying mechanisms for people to register and make their appointments,” he added.

He said the SRHA will be ready once the go-ahead is given to administer the vaccine to others.

Community centres and church halls are among the spaces being examined for mass vaccination sites.

“We plan to have some mass vaccination sites, so we would have looked at some places. For example, in Clarendon, we would have been in dialogue to use the Denbigh Agricultural showground as one of the sites. We have also looked at church halls and community buildings,” said Bent.

The five hospitals in the region are either at capacity or running out of space.

“This is dynamic… Some hospitals are at capacity. At Mandeville Regional we now have ready a 16-bed ward for use,” Bent stressed.

Up to yesterday there were 20 patients in the COVID ward at Mandeville Regional; 19 (capacity 26) at May Pen Hospital; nine (capacity 11) at Lionel Town Hospital, and 14 (capacity 23) at Black River Hospital.

The COVID ward at Percy Junor Hospital has exceeded its 16-bed capacity with 17 patients being admitted there.

“We still have patients who are suspected [cases], and their results are expected soon, so the numbers can rise,” Bent said.

In recent weeks there have been reports of an oxygen shortage at some hospitals. However, despite the demand Bent is adamant that facilities in the southern region are being proactive.

“We have been stretched in terms of the use of oxygen, because the demand for the last three weeks has increased four fold. We monitor our supplies very regularly. We have bulk oxygen capacity at May Pen, Mandeville, Percy Junor and Black River and at Lionel Town we use cylinders,” he said.

“We have never run out, but we have reached concerning levels at times… At the same time other patients need oxygen,” he added and encouraged the public to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Continue to observe the protocols, wear your masks and physical distance. Avoid the crowding. We really don’t want people to end up in hospitals. Take this pandemic very serious,” he said.

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