JM | Apr 22, 2021

Dear Chris Tufton, we aren’t the world leader: Bhutan puts Jamaica’s vaccine blitz to shame

Gavin Riley

Gavin Riley / Our Today

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

Jamaica has done modestly well in its series of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination blitzes across much of the country, but let’s not kid ourselves: we are no world leaders in this regard, despite claims by Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton. 

Tufton, in his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament on Wednesday (April 21), claimed that no other country in the world managed to vaccinate five per cent of its population in 37 days. 

Beaming at the record immunisation figures of 26,961 jabs administered on April 12, and mentioning the rate of vaccination worldwide charted by CNN, Tufton said, “We have achieved bragging rights, if you will, for the [only] country in the world that has achieved the fastest immunisation within a particular period of time, some five per cent.” 

Now while this all looks and sounds good, as Tufton and his technocrats beat their chests, fact-checking the minister’s claim against the truthful reality of Bhutan, Jamaica pales in comparison. 

Public health nurse Marica Thomas-Yetman became the first Jamaican to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 10, one year to the day that the island confirmed its first COVID-19 case. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Please don’t misconstrue this article. As one of the over 134,000 Jamaicans to receive my first AstraZeneca jab as of April 13, I can say the ministry’s inoculation blitzes have been hugely successful.

Also, while we are slightly ahead of our regional neighbours statistically, our efforts fall short when we look at the number of doses administered as a percentage of the national population.

It gives me no pleasure to provide Minister Tufton with the following facts on his braggadocious claim:

Bhutan, just shy of a million people (nearly 800,000 to be exact) vaccinated 60 per cent of its entire adult population in 17 days. Bear in mind that Buthan, tucked between China and India, is a landlocked country in the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas.

The maths is not maths-ing, ‘Wicked Man Chris’. 

According to the New York Times, unlike Jamaica’s vaccine blitzes, which were largely centred around urban areas islandwide—Bhutan, a country roughly three times larger and with more people living in rural, mountainous spaces, saw healthcare workers trek through perilous conditions to ensure as many adults were protected from COVID-19. 

Ninda Dema was Bhutan’s chosen one to get the first COVID-19 vaccine due to her auspicious, March 26 birthday.(Photo: Facebook @PMOBhutan)

“Vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine arrived last month by helicopter and were distributed by health workers, who walked from village to village through snow and ice. Vaccinations proceeded in the area’s 13 settlements even after yaks damaged some of the field tents that volunteers had set up for patients,” the Times reported. 

Bhutan then took it a step further: The Buddhist nation flew past Israel, United States and Bahrain to have the world’s highest proportion of adults (93 per cent) who have received their first dose in three weeks.

Three weeks. Twenty-one days.

“As of Saturday [April 18], Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom that has emphasised its citizens’ well-being over national prosperity, had administered a first vaccine dose to more than 478,000 people, over 60 per cent of its population. The Health Ministry said this month that more than 93 per cent of eligible adults had received their first shots,” the Times said.

What makes this even more impressive is the fact that Bhutan, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has been largely quiet about its vaccine success story.

The Bhutanese government, kickstarting its vaccination drive on March 26, is closer than any country in the world to herd immunity. (Photo: Facebook @PMOBhutan)

That’s how you boast about a vaccination drive. With humility.

Again, don’t get me wrong, there are several merits to Jamaica’s successful blitzes, even in the face of supply issues and vaccine scepticism.

We have done well, I will gladly admit this, but let’s be truthful and honest when grandstanding in a political setting. 

Even in the Caribbean, Jamaica may rest atop the English-speaking ranking by sheer number of doses, however, it’s the proportion to population which gives an indication who is closer to achieving herd immunity. 

By that standard, the Cayman Islands, Barbados and Bermuda are leaders before Jamaica and her three million people. 

Second vaccination blitz exercise taking place at the National Arena. (Photo: JIS)

Regionally, the Dominican Republic has administered far more shots quantifiably but pales in comparison to its massive 11 million population.

Minister Tufton, while I won’t assume the intent of yesterday’s declaration, I urge your experts to save you any future retraction. 

The truth remains: Jamaica is not, and has never been, world (or regional for that matter) leaders in vaccine administration. 

For now, please, let’s just focus on getting the job done, as the late US President Theodore Roosevelt posits, “comparison is the thief of joy”.

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