Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Ja could miss WHO 40% vax target for 2021

Many J’cans holding out for Pfizer jabs; St Thomas, Portland trail in take-up

Published:Saturday | October 16, 2021 | 12:11 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter

With Jamaica being among six Latin American and Caribbean countries yet to break the 20 per cent vaccination barrier, there are fears that the island could miss the World Health Organisation target for countries to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of their populations by year end.

With 29 countries in the Americas already attaining the 40 per cent target, countries such as St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guatemala, and Nicaragua are also struggling to inoculate their citizens.

Locally, roughly 12.3 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with Corporate Area sites administering the most jabs up to Wednesday, October 13, according to health ministry data.

Just over 111,436 people are fully vaccinated at sites in Kingston and St Andrew, where take-up by the population is the strongest.

But that is only 16.8 per cent of Kingston and St Andrew residents receiving either their second dose or single-shot vaccination out of a population of 662,491 people, based on the Statistical Institute of Jamaica year-end preliminary data for 2019.

Although the percentages could be skewed as Jamaicans do not necessarily take shots in their parish of residence, this is the high point of Jamaica’s paltry vaccination efforts, according to data requested from the Ministry of Health and Wellness last week.

The disaggregated figures are grimmer for St Catherine, arguably the nation’s fastest-growing parish for housing developments; and which is home to the still-expanding Portmore – already the largest urban community in the Caribbean with more than 200,000 residents.

With a 2019 population of 520,804 people, St Catherine sites have issued both doses of vaccination to 37,812 persons, and a further 6,828 people have received single-shot vaccination. That could mean roughly 8.5 per cent of the parish’s total population that is fully vaccinated.

Some 175,004 people have taken only their first jabs at Kingston and St Andrew sites, while 71,326 have taken their first shot at St Catherine locations.

Roughly 150,000 Jamaicans are due second shots in two weeks, said Health Minister Christopher Tufton.

This data only reflects numbers recorded at vaccination sites and does not necessarily relate to the origins of people being vaccinated. This means that many of the persons vaccinated in Kingston and St Andrew, for example, may have come from outside their home parishes.

Still, it is an untenable situation, Tufton warned, as he urged more Jamaicans to stand in line at 90-plus vaccination sites islandwide this Heroes Weekend.

“Be the hero for yourself; be the hero for your family, your community, and get vaccinated,” he appealed at a press conference on Thursday.

“I cannot imagine that there is a Jamaican today that is not seized with the messaging from the Government, from stakeholders, the different groups, the churches around the need for vaccines to play a critical part of getting us back to normal,” he pressed, with the backing of Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie.

Tourism-dependent parishes

For St James and other tourism-dependent parishes, higher vacination rates could herald a full reopening of that sector. On Thursday, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said that 60 per cent of tourism workers were vaccinated.

But St James’ vaccination sites, with 24,766 second doses and 2,554 single jabs administered, have only fully inoculated 14.2 per cent of the parish’s 2019 population of 191,737. There are 43,736 people who have received only their first dose in St James.

There are several reasons for the low figures, noted Dr Tamara Henry, medical officer of St Mary, which – along with St Thomas, Portland, Hanover, and Trelawny – rounds off the parishes with the lowest number of jabs administered.

On paper, only 10,773 persons in St Mary have been given two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine and only 1,593 persons have been injected with single-shot jabs. That is just under 11 per cent of St Mary’s population, which stood at 115,090 at the end of 2019. Some 18,324 people have taken only their first doses of the vaccine.

“Some of the individuals, when we call them they are telling us that they have already gotten their doses. You have persons who go to other vaccination sites across the country,” explained Henry.”These persons work in Kingston, got their first dose over here, maybe at a blitz, but they then get their second dose in Kingston as they are back at work because they are allowed to go anywhere to take the shots.”

Some persons may have taken opportunities to start or complete their vaccination process outside their home towns, at the National Arena, for example.

“Less than 20 per cent of persons are getting at least one dose of the vaccine [at parish sites], and we have been having quite a number of community interventions. But we are nowhere where we need to be,” offered Henry, noting that health ministry teams have visited more than 10 communities in September alone and that there are fixed sites in the four health districts. “But persons have not been coming out as we would want.”

Online misinformation

Some persons, she said, harbour lingering doubts from misinformation presented online, while some are awaiting Pfizer jabs, a preference of many Jamaicans, and of which Tufton said the country will benefit from 601,000 doses within the next month.

With a lilting accent, Medial Officer Dr Kaushal Singh relayed the gravity of the vaccination dilemma in Hanover.

At those sites, 8,160 persons have been fully vaccinated. That is 11 per cent of the total population of Hanover as of 2019. Another 13,854 persons have received only their first dose.

“The people are not coming out ... . Persons are coming for the second doses, but the first doses are low. There is a hesitancy among them. I don’t know,” he said, frustratedly.

“We are speaking to them; we are telling them, but I don’t know. People say they are waiting for Pfizer,” Singh said, noting that primarily AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are now available.

“When we had the Pfizer, we had a great uptake, after that, it went down drastically,” he explained, adding that the AstraZeneca vaccine has suffered the greatest from vaccine hesitancy in the parish. “They are saying it forms clots; that is unfounded. And then there was the thing on social media that the UK was not accepting vaccines given here. People are already hesitant, but these things make things worse.”

In the interim, medical officer for Portland, Dr Sharon Lewis, listed a preference to take natural juices than the vaccine, fear of chronic illnesses worsening, belief that persons have died from the vaccine, and, interestingly, that the single-dose of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is too powerful, as reasons for people not wanting to be vaccinated.

“There is an unwillingness of many persons to change their mindset despite information to correct the misconceptions about the vaccines,” explained Lewis. “Many persons are still determined to hold out to be vaccinated with Pfizer despite the declaration by the ministry that only persons awaiting the second dose and children will be prioritised when the next shipment comes.”

Portland, with a population of 80,921 as of 2019, has so far recorded 5,766 people who have taken their full two-dose course and a further 442 people who have taken the single-shot J&J jab. That is 7.6 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. A further 10,320 persons have only taken their first shot.

“We have partnered with other agencies and political representatives to promote the vaccines in the communities. We have done town cries to promote the vaccination sessions and sent our officers into the field to educate persons about the vaccines. We will also be reaching out to pastors and other influential persons in the communities to help us promote the available vaccines,” Lewis said of continued efforts to administer more doses.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm

Region First dose only Second dose Single dose

Kingston & St Andrew 175,004 97,784 13,652

St Catherine 71,326 37,812 6,828

St James 43,736 24,766 2,554

Clarendon 34,571 21,461 2,723

Manchester 35,343 20,371 1,768

St Elizabeth 33,205 19,672 1,997

St Ann 33,157 19,434 2,490

Westmoreland 24,834 14,043 1,205

St Mary 18,324 10,773 1,593

Trelawny 16,028 8,833 803

Hanover 13,854 7,503 657

Portland 10,320 5,766 442

St Thomas 10,665 5,690 173

Unspecified 400 262 34

Overseas 252 13 –

*Data for parish vaccination sites as at October 13, 2021.