Coronavirus
JM | Jun 24, 2021

Better communication and logistics needed with Ministry of Health’s vaccination rollout

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

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Crowded scenes on Wednesday, June 23, as scores of Jamaicans clamoured for COVID-19 vaccines, despite the insistence from the Ministry of Health and Wellness that only those aged 50 years and older who were notified and listed for the jab would be receiving. (Photo: Twitter @CarolNarcisse)

Last week’s vaccination rollout was a bit of a disaster with poor, haphazard communications and sites overrun by people without appointments.

The remainder of this month should see the Ministry of Health and Wellness learning from those errors and being more vigilant in coordinating dosages for those aged 50 and over.

There is a shortage of vaccines and that is not the Ministry of Health’s fault. Efforts continue apace with Howard Mitchell leading the charge to secure more vaccines for Jamaica. It is welcomed news that the country will be getting some 35,000 doses from Mexico.

At the current rate, Jamaica will not attain herd immunity for at least two years and that is far too long bearing in mind restrictions have now been relaxed by the government and party organisers and entertainment interests have been given the green light.

Last week saw many disgruntled Jamaicans bemoaning receiving texts to come to the wrong venue at the wrong time to get vaccinated.

In one instance, a 55-year old man living in Hope Pastures was told to come to Clarendon at 4:00 am to receive his second dose of AstraZeneca.

The scenes at the National Arena were pure chaos and a study in incompetence.

That being said it revealed indiscipline on the part of many people who turned up unexpectedly and without an appointment expecting to jump the line and get the jab.

This placed undue pressure on facilities and medical workers.

If you are a spry 35-year-old or you have no comorbidities, you become an obstacle if you turn up looking to be vaccinated.

Let’s be clear here, the Ministry of Health placed an overreliance on modern cell phone technology by placing their main communication methodology on this mode.

What could go wrong, did go wrong – big time!

The well-received April 12 vaccination blitz exercise took place at the National Arena, in Kingston, Jamaica. Encouraging walk-ins islandwide, the vaccination blitzes reached capacity within days and successfully delivered 75,000 AstraZeneca doses to Jamaicans before their April 13 expiry date. (Photo: JIS)

There was no dummy run or time to test the effectiveness of conveying the message by text. Was there even a fallback plan if things went awry?

It reminded one of scenes from the British movie Kingsman where the entire country is being brainwashed via text messaging.

Social media and cell phone technology has been a disruptor and has redefined how communication takes place. But it is patently clear that Jamaica is not ready yet to totally go this route in communicating with citizens particularly concerning a deadly virus that threatens the health and economy of the nation.

Earlier this year the Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton had made mention of the need for a concerted marketing and communication campaign to encourage Jamaicans to get vaccinated.

Many baulked at the cost and expansiveness of the exercise and Dr Tufton did not press the matter. In hindsight this campaign to go on an all media drive to get people to see the importance of inoculation was right.

Traditional media still has a role to play in the affairs of Jamaica and the Ministry of Health would do well to buy spots on radio, television and in print telling people where to go and what times are available to get the vaccine.

It is unlikely that traditional media would be subject to technological gremlins on the scale we saw last week thus scuppering the intended mission.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Chistopher Tufton, speaking during a sitting of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, January 12. (Photo: JIS)

The one good thing to come out of this is that more people are now willing to get the jab, with the merits of getting vaccinated becoming clearer. More people in the developed countries are lining up to get their doses and those countries are getting back on track. People in Jamaica are seeing this and taking note.

Dr Tufton’s observations here bear this out. Speaking in Parliament he said: “The Government fully appreciates the potential for those anxieties and fully shares an understanding with those persons who are anxious to get their second dose. In fact, we think it is a good indication of the willingness to take the vaccines. I really am heartened to see persons being very vocal for them  to get their vaccines.”

There remain two hurdles – the Delta variant which could force the country back into lockdown if allowed to get out of control and two, not enough Jamaicans getting vaccinated in a timely fashion. As it stands, just 9 per cent of the population has received the first dose of the European AstraZeneca vaccine.

Let’s get the message out there and get it right.

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