Smaller islands in the Caribbean like Barbados, Grenada and Dominica have started the vaccinate their populations against COVID-19. But one of the largest countries in the region, Jamaica, has not yet begun to do so. The government is still waiting on vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO) to kick-start its vaccination campaign.
But at a press conference last week Thursday, the island’s minister of health and wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton said the delay has forced the government to change its plans regarding vaccination.
Plans are now being made to vaccinate two million Jamaicans, up from half a million that was previously announced.
“We’re in a position now, based on the budget, to say that we have the resources to secure vaccines for some two million Jamaicans,” Dr Tufton said.
“The discussions that are taking place now are around how do we secure the stocks of vaccines, not whether or not we can afford it. We have locked those funds and therefore it really now is a function of whether we can get it,” he said.
“We can buy up to 3.5 million doses, five billion Jamaican dollars, two million Jamaicans, and that’s a commitment that the Government is making to the populace as part of the COVID response,” the minister said.
The island’s major roadblock is now securing the shots. Dr. Tufton and Prime Minister Andrew Holness have noted that richer nations buying vaccines in bulk is among the major hindrances.
In addition to getting vaccines through the WHO COVAX facility, Tufton said the Indian Government has committed to donating 50,000 doses of the COVAXIN vaccine to Jamaica, while another 50,000 doses are expected to be procured by the private sector.
At the press conference, Dr. Tufton also addressed the issue of data security surrounding the government’s JAM COVID-19 app for travelers.
Since early last week, the government has come under scrutiny after an international tech company revealed that the personal data of travelers to Jamaica was left unsecured.
Tufton remained tight-lipped on the issue but said that the government was committed to protecting confidential information of all its visitors.
“The Government (is) very clear on the need to secure the personal information of those who use the app and in particular, as it relates to public health. We have had a long-established tradition of confidentiality in terms of patient records,” he said.
Dr. Tufton is the first government minister that has publicly spoken on the issue, which has gained worldwide media attention. The Jamaican government on Thursday said it has launched a criminal investigation into the security breach.