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September vax plan for St James lock-ups

Published:Thursday | August 12, 2021 | 12:11 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer


With the judicial system in western Jamaica taking a battering from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the shutting down of the parish courts in St James and Westmoreland earlier this week, the St James Health Department is poised to target persons in lock-ups in the parish in a vaccination campaign, starting next month.

News broke on Monday that the Court Administrative Division of the justice system had ordered the parish courts in St James closed because of the large number of staff members who had tested positive for the virus. A day later, the Westmoreland courts were also shuttered.

With detainees accessing the court system for their court cases, indications are that like the members of the court staff, they, too, could be exposed to the coronavirus.

A police source told The Gleaner yesterday that significant efforts are being made to limit inmates’ exposure to the coronavirus. As a consequence, new detainees are made to go through a period of quarantine before they are placed with the general population in the lock-ups.

Lennox Wallace, the parish manager for the St James Health Department, told The Gleaner yesterday that the vaccination plan, which has been discussed with the parish’s Police High Command, is an expansion of ongoing efforts to inoculate inmates against the coronavirus.

“We have been vaccinating [detainees] already, but we have not completed that effort because it is slow-moving. The police are using the Barnett Street lock-up [in downtown Montego Bay] as an area where persons who are taken into custody are then quarantined to see if they had had COVID, and then they are moved to the general population,” added Wallace.

Like with the general population, Wallace says his health team encountered some amount of vaccine hesitancy among the inmates during their first intervention, but he is hoping that things will be different next month.

The announcement from Wallace comes seven months after inmates at the Freeport Police Station lock-up in Montego Bay were placed under quarantine on January 9, following a COVID-19 scare at the facility. They were released from quarantine on February 21 after being cleared by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

That incident took place three months after reports arose that 23 persons in the penal system had tested positive for the virus. At that time, the human rights group Stand Up for Jamaica called for the release of low-risk prisoners who were nearing the end of their sentences.

In the meantime, Wallace has confirmed that residents of the St James Infirmary and several local nursing homes were fully vaccinated and had been targeted during the parish’s first vaccine-distribution push in April.

“As part of the first phase of vaccinations, we had done those persons at the infirmary and nursing homes, all the places where elderly persons reside as a group, and those persons are fully vaccinated. That was one of our criteria as it relates to vaccination because those persons would be among the most vulnerable,” said Wallace.