PM not ruling out Kartel as vax ambassador
Incarcerated dancehall deejay Adidja ‘Vybz Kartel’ Palmer may have a role to play in the Government’s pro-vaccination campaign.
Addressing a query by The Gleaner about Palmer’s recruitment in promoting the COVID-19 jab, Prime Minister Andrew Holness did not rule out the entertainer’s possible involvement in rallying Jamaicans.
“In a national emergency such as a pandemic, we in the Government of Jamaica would enlist the support of all well-thinking citizens in encouraging persons to take the vaccine,” Holness said, following a stop at the Caribbean Palms Community Centre in St Andrew South Western, where a Ministry of Health and Wellness vaccination blitz was being conducted on Friday.
Anti-vaxxer rhetoric and hesitancy are rife in Jamaica, evidence of which was observed at the blitz, which appeared to have had more healthcare workers and volunteers than persons for the take-up.
Their aversion was further revealed in an RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson poll, which found that 70 per cent of those canvassed are opposed to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, even as a deadly third wave continues to ravage the country.
The poll was conducted between August 19 and September 3 among 1,003 Jamaicans.
There have been calls for the Government to enlist the support of Palmer, one of the most influential figures in the country’s entertainment industry.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and his opposition counterpart Dr Morais Guy have both indicated that they would find favour with any incorporation of the entertainer in spreading the message of the need to take the COVID-19 jab.
“There is no doubt that Vybz Kartel is an influencer, with many fans throughout the country. ... If he can influence others to take it that would be good. I would be willing to work with the penal system to explore how it could be done,” Tufton said recently.
Palmer, who is serving a 35-year sentence for murder, received his first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on September 3. He is reportedly doing well since getting the shot.
“In terms of how the Government structures its programmes, the existence of a pandemic, of an emergency, does not always justify the dispensing of rules and regulations and laws and policies and principles,” Holness said on Friday.
“So, we make a general call for every citizen of Jamaica to support and use their influence,” he added.
The prime minister said that the Government has sought to get the support of influential groups in the pro-vaccination campaign, but noted that not everyone could readily respond.
Palmer has reportedly recorded many songs from prison, in contravention of regulations, during his more-than-decade-old detention, causing embarrassment to correctional officials. His interview with an American television station in August added to their chagrin.
Holness said, however, that within their fraternities, people will find their own ways of mobilising support.
“We have a national programme and that programme has to follow all the laws and guidelines and procedures. So that will prescribe how we engage. So my short answer to you is, we encourage everyone from all walks of life, wherever you are, whatever your status, whatever your station, if you can support and add your voice, please go ahead and do so,” said Holness.
He added that signing on to a state programme to show support is not always necessary.
Palmer’s attorney, Isat Buchanan, told The Gleaner that his client made a mature decision in taking the vaccine to protect himself and to encourage his family.
The lawyer, however, said that Palmer is not in a position to participate in any ongoing campaign.
“Persons are free to make that decision on their own,” he said.
Buchanan had previously supported the inclusion of Kartel and other entertainers in the public education drive.
Approximately seven per cent of the Jamaican population is fully vaccinated. The country is targeting 65 per cent herd immunity by March 2022.