JHTA, Chamber of Commerce, BPO sector fully behind COVID-19 vaccine

The tourism, merchant and business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors have thrown their full support behind the COVID-19 vaccine, urging Jamaicans to get their jabs as soon as it becomes available to them.

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Clifton Reader said he would set the example by taking the vaccine when it becomes available to hotel workers, and “I strongly encourage all workers in the sector to take the jab.”

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Reader argued that Jamaicans’ acceptance of the vaccine would fuel confidence among tourism stakeholders in the international market, noting: “It will send a strong signal to international partners because other countries are basically vaccinating away their population like crazy.”

“I will be definitely taking the vaccine as soon as it becomes available in phase two to hotel workers, and the tourism sector, in general. So, I definitely endorse and encourage people to take it once they are cleared by MOHW [Ministry of Health and Wellness],” Reader said.

Supporting the national president, chairman of the St James chapter of the JHTA Robin Russell also encouraged Jamaicans to take the vaccine, saying that, for the most part, it is safe.

“I think it is the only way we are going to get back to normality. It has been proven to be a safe vaccine with millions of people taking it. So, I encourage everybody to take it when their time comes,” said Russell.

President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI) Janet Silvera suggested that not taking the vaccine would be irresponsible, as she urged all Jamaicans to take it.

“I think every single Jamaican needs to go and take the vaccine in order for Jamaica to become almost like a herd community. We need at least 80 per cent of our people to take it. It’s our responsibility to take the vaccine,” she contended.

Silvera said that it would augur well for the hospitality sector if tourists were aware that a high percentage of the workforce they will interface with is inoculated.

“Another thing, if there comes a time when visitors need to have a vaccine passport, what it would show is that a large number of the people who are dealing with them are also inoculated,” she told the Observer.

The MBCCI president pointed to data suggesting that only a very small number of individuals suffered side effects from the vaccine, and she hit out at sceptics who “are bent on spreading conspiracy theories about vaccination”.

“We all did the BCG [bacillus Calmette-Guérin] vaccine as children, and we are still alive. So I think that what we need to do is stop listening to the conspiracy theories. We expect that it is not going to work well with everybody, but it is a minuscule number of persons who have been affected.

“More often than not it has had a positive effect on those who have taken it,” said Silvera, a popular journalist and businesswoman in western Jamaica.

Gloria Henry, president of the Global Services Association of Jamaica (GSAJ), which groups BPO companies, told the Observer she was throwing her full support behind vaccination in the fight against the respiratory disease.

“We are concerned about the increased numbers [of positive cases] that Jamaica is seeing now, and we are hoping that we will get more of the population vaccinated as soon as possible so that we can move towards a greater ratio of vaccinated persons and towards herd immunity,” underscored Henry.

She was elated that members of the BPO workforce would be included in the second phase of the vaccination exercise, adding: “We have over 40,000 Jamaicans employed in the sector and we are an important foreign exchange generator in the country.”

Both Henry and Silvera hailed the partnership between the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the Ministry of Health and Wellness to procure COVID-19 vaccines for Jamaica.

“I am supporting that full-time. If the private sector can provide their staff with the vaccines then it would also take the burden off the Government,” Silvera said.

Said Henry: “We are supporting the PSOJ’s vaccine initiative. Of course, that is a critical initiative because it recognises the vaccination effort implemented by the Government. It’s imperative to restore jobs and livelihood and businesses and families.”