AS Jamaica gets closer to the reality of a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available here, there is a call for the Government to include categories of Jamaicans, who have been considered essential throughout the pandemic, in the initial round of immunisation.
General Secretary of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) John Levy says with those in the telecommunications, manufacturing and utilities sectors, among others, considered and treated as essential throughout the pandemic, they should also be prioritised for access to the COVID-19 vaccines when they are available here.
Initially about 10,000 doses of the vaccine will be available to Jamaica for front line workers, such as those in the medical field. In the second phase 20,000 doses will be made available for the most vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has said that the first vaccines could be deployed across the region by March of next year.
“You can’t have these workers as priority when you want light and water and telecoms and when the vaccine comes they are no longer priority. The data must be put together right now and place those persons very early in the picture,” Levy said in a Jamaica Observer interview.
“Those persons have to be out there no matter what. The bus people, the JPS [Jamaica Public Service] people, the [other] energy sector workers are critical. Those workers should be considered as part of the early vaccination. All those persons who are encouraged to go out to work continuously, the Government needs to consider those persons in the pecking order and try to get them vaccinated as early as possible,” he stated.
But president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) Richard Pandhoie does not believe there is an urgent need to vaccinate workers in that sector in the early phase. He said that with the initial supply of vaccine supplies being limited, a tough choice will have to be made on the categories of people who will be prioritised.
“Of course, everyone is going to have an opinion and everyone is going to want their sector to be included in the priority list. The good news is that with time, the limitation in vaccination supply will go away and everyone will have the opportunity to be vaccinated,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic, he pointed out, the focus has been on preventing death and managing the spread of the novel coronavirus while trying to ensure the wheel of commerce keeps turning.
“In Jamaica’s case, our mortality rate from the virus has been low, but unfortunately, the spread has been increasing, so our priority should be to contain the spread and try to get the economy opened some more.
“It is my view that essential workers, who have to interact in person with the public and who are critical to key infrastructure remaining operational, should be the priority. These include front line medical staff, security forces, firemen, specialised port workers, air traffic controllers, etc. If enough is available initially, I would also include teachers in the list, as our children desperately need to get back to face-to-face classroom,” Pandhoie said.
He pointed out that in the manufacturing sector incidents of COVID-19 cases have been few and well-managed. “Our sector has been good with putting in measures to ensure adherence to protocols, in some cases, we have adopted standards that are above those recommended by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, so I believe we can continue strict protocol adherence until the vaccine is more widely available,” he said.
The dosage allocation follows the protocol of an initial three per cent of a country’s population being targeted for vaccination, according to PAHO.
Meanwhile, Digicel Jamaica, one of the island’s major telecommunications providers, said that as a provider of essential services to the public, “it is important for us to keep our network going and keep Jamaica connected, no matter what. We take this responsibility very seriously and we continue to do everything that we can to mitigate the impact of the pandemic upon our operations”.
The company said it continues to monitor the situation with deep interest, and will be guided by the stipulations of the local authorities.
Last week, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said talks are being held to allow tourism workers to be immunised against COVID-19 when Jamaica begins the first phase of the vaccination process. This is being contemplated in light of the vulnerability of tourism workers to exposure, as they interact with international visitors daily .
Jamaica is among the CARICOM member states for which the Caribbean Public Health Agency has paid down for equitable access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine under the COVAX facility.