Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness said Friday that his administration is committed to breaking the cycle of improper distribution of scarce public goods by exercising fairness and integrity in distributing the COVID-19 vaccines, as he insisted that the government was taking the disappearance of a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine very seriously.
In that regard, he said a full investigation has been launched to determine whether there was any negligence, malfeasance, deliberate theft, or corruption involved.
The vial containing 10 doses of the vaccine went missing from the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay on Monday, the same day Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to receive a vaccine shipment via the COVAX Facility.
Speaking at a virtual vaccine town hall meeting, Holness said the country must have faith, trust, and confidence, not only in the safety of the vaccine but also in the equitable, safe, and efficient nature of the distribution of the vaccine.
Director of Family Services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Melody Ennis, stressed that vaccines must be stored at prescribed temperatures and, therefore, the stolen vaccines cannot last long and their efficiency would be compromised.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister stated that to obtain more vaccines to continue the inoculation process, the Government has focused its efforts on commercial negotiations as well as multilateral and bilateral arrangements.
“Our strategic objective now is to pursue very diligently, our commercial negotiations between Government and producers; our multilateral arrangements which are already set and established with COVAX and the African Medical Supply Platform, and our bilateral arrangements with even more intensity,” said Holness.
This strategy, the Prime Minister said, should increase small supplies and rapidly expand the distribution of the vaccine.
The Government started the vaccination programme on March 10, two days after the first set of 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines donated by the Government of India arrived in the island.
Then on March 15, Jamaica received 14,400 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by SK Bioscience of South Korea, which were sent by the Pan American Health Organization’s Revolving Fund, which is responsible for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for the countries of the Americas under the COVAX Facility.
The shipment was part of the first phase of deliveries for Jamaica and more vaccines are expected to arrive throughout the year. The island is expected to continue receiving doses through May until it reaches 124,800, the amount specified by COVAX, the global effort between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Gavi, UNICEF, PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Meantime, Health and Wellness Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton said Thursday that 16,096 persons were inoculated during the first week of the vaccination programme, which was 94 percent of the 17,050 target.
Those vaccinated include healthcare workers, the elderly, and members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
“This means we are just short six percentage points of the overall number we have set, which I think is very good,” Minister Tufton said.
“We are now at 34 percent of our target for the month and just one per cent of the target for the year, so we still have a long way to go,” he added.