UWI professor: Vaccine jabs for 2 million J’cans good, but..

UNIVERSITY Professor Paul Brown says while the news that the Jamaican Government plans to acquire vaccines for two million citizens this year to help achieve herd immunity against the novel coronavirus is welcomed, there are significant hurdles ahead.

“There are some issues in terms of vaccine hesitancy and confidence. We know many persons will not take the vaccine, and this includes health care workers as well, but we don’t know how many will not. And for herd immunity, at least 70 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated — because until the population is protected then nobody is safe,” Brown, a professor of molecular biology at The University of the West Indies, said.

He was appearing on virtual talk show Heart To Heart on the weekend.

Speaking in his personal capacity, he said, while some of the hesitancy has to do with things such as individuals wanting to know the ingredients used, what is certain is that “COVID-19 vaccines work”.

The other challenge, though, he said, is that while “we think the vaccine will be effective enough to stop the pandemic, we don’t know how long immunity will last. Some think it could be between three and six months, some estimate eight months — only time will tell whether there will be long-lasting immunity with any of the vaccines”.

“We will see what happens, but what is most important now is that we have people vaccinated so that the pandemic can be stayed,” he told the audience.

In the meantime, he bemoaned the fact that some wealthier countries have ordered more vaccine doses than they actually need, noting that this has far-reaching implications even for travel.

“Some countries will be well protected while many others will be woefully lacking. Even though lots of money is being spent to produce vaccines, the estimated global capacity to produce the vaccines by the companies will cover only two billion courses of vaccination. We have close to eight billion persons in the world, so clearly there will be shortfall, and it means that anybody who doesn’t have the money to purchase the vaccines is going to be left out. And if you are left out you can’t travel either, because evidence of either a negative COVID test or vaccination might be part of what is required for travel,” he opined.

“Altogether, the companies involved in the manufacture of vaccine do not have the capacity for all the countries in the world. Clearly there must be increased production; more capacity is going to be needed if a reasonable proportion of the world’s population is going to be covered.

“What this means is that we are going to be having COVID well into 2022,” Professor Brown said.

He said, while it was unlikely that the vaccine could be made compulsory since the production capacity is lacking, “The significant challenge that will result is that there might be severe travel restrictions.”

“So as it is now, with persons required to produce a negative COVID test to travel, then in the future that might be another layer that will cause issues for persons,” he stated.

Jamaica itself is on stream to get between 146,400 and 249,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX facility towards the end of this month to vaccinate approximately 125,000 citizens.