Gov't earmarks $3 billion for phase one of vaccine programme

Dr. Christopher Tufton and Mark Golding
The government is planning to spend about J$3 billion to implement phase one of the local vaccine programme, with the first doses to be delivered on April 21.
The other doses will arrive on July 21 and December 21.
The schedule is outlined in the COVID-19 Deployment and Vaccination Interim Plan tabled by Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton in the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon.
Dr. Tufton said the vaccine programme has been broken down into four phases, with 16 per cent of the population to be inoculated in the first phase this year. 
The $3 billion budget to support the first phase will cover the purchase of the vaccines, supply chain and cold storage items, personal protective equipment (PPE), transportation, staff training and costs, as well as public education and sensitisation costs.   
Dr. Tufton said a further 16 per cent of the population is to be immunised next year as the government continues to "seek additional doses of the vaccine based on locally relevant risk factors, vulnerabilities and the COVID-19 threat."  
The minister noted the vaccines to be received under the COVAX programme will arrive by air and receive priority clearance by customs. 
Routine vaccine?
Dr. Tufton said COVID-19 vaccinations could become part of  Jamaica's routine vaccination programme if the virus continues to pose a threat. 
He said the government would first have to determine the need for revaccination and or the level of immunity achieved or needed by the population after the initial four vaccination phases. 
If it is determined that the population needs further COVID-19 vaccinations, this will be absorbed into the regular budget for immunisation. 
'Not ambitious enough'
But Opposition Leader Mark Golding contended the government's goal of vaccinating 16 per cent of the population this year and another 16 per cent next year is not ambitious enough.
He insisted those targets are unsatisfactory since "to achieve herd immunity, the general consensus is it's around 60 per cent of the population that must be immunised."  
Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a population becomes immune to a disease, making its spread from person to person unlikely. 
Mr. Golding urged the government to step up efforts to source sufficient doses of the COVID vaccine "to immunise our population this year, at a level that will achieve herd immunity this year." 
In response to the suggestion, Dr. Tufton admitted the 16 per cent projection is conservative, but said the Opposition Leader's position was not realistic. 
He noted that while he understood Mr. Golding's anxiety, "we are faced with a very practical scenario...that you can't access what is not available." 

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