Back in February when it was generally assumed that by the summer all would be well and the ravages of the COVID virus would be consigned to a major incident of yester year, Jamaica’s Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton wanted to spearhead a J$442 million national public relations/marketing campaign to get Jamaicans vaccinated and the country closer to herd immunity.
The idea was wholeheartedly rejected and many vociferously exclaimed that the government was wasting too much money and that another corruption scandal would be unearthed.
Dr Tufton and the government conceded to public opinion and withdrew the plan.
This would have seen a one-year contract granted to One Integrated Group with the company earning $22 million and the remaining $420 million to go into TV, radio, digital and social media, newspaper and on the ground activations spend.
Six months ago Dr Tufton made the case for a public education programme to get Jamaicans vaccinated and pointed out that failure to do so would put tremendous strain on the under-funded healthcare system and further burden the economy.
He placed high importance on managing public perception and creating a positive narrative around vaccines and what benefits they provide but the backlash he faced was overwhelming.
“ When we are talking about a herd immunity, that really ought to represent 70 to 80 per cent especially for the type of novel virus that is sweeping the world and is impacting the entire population.
“So it is not an easy task and my core discipline is marketing so I can speak with authority.”
The howls of condemnation grew louder and louder. Some said it was contracts given to favoured ones, that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Today we are in a third wave, with the Delta variant being a more virulent mutation and so having an altogether more pernicious impact.
Compounding matters further is the inability to access sufficient vaccines as the developed countries insist that its people take priority in inoculation and poor countries like Jamaica remain at the behest of international bodies like PAHO and the WHO.
The disparities continue to widen in this world we live in today and social media isn’t changing that anytime soon.
Tufton now has to battle with ignorance and false narratives pressed by social media.
Once again it is clear to see why it is important to have an educated populace and to ensure that your culture and norms are not determined solely by low brow proclivities.
“ The government is trying to control us.”
“The vaccine will make you sterile.”
“The vaccine is a ploy to wipe out black people.”
“ The world is overpopulated and cannot accommodate 10 billion people”
“ Inoculation is just a way for Bill Gates to make more money.”
“Big pharma has the most to gain.”
“The vaccines have not been sufficiently tested and will lead to major side effects.”
Theories, theories, theories.
All unsubstantiated, all propagated on social media.
Fodder for under-developed minds and backward people. Sheep truly following the herd.
Looking across the Caribbean, Barbados, The Bahamas and Cayman have made concerted efforts to vaccinate their people. It comes as no surprise that the more progressive countries of the region see value in going this route.
Those that are backward, illiterate, poor, dependent upon hand-outs , guided and dependent upon social media have the lesser vaccination rates.
Jamaica has administered around 400,000 doses of COVID vaccines, that’s has less than 7 per cent of its population but it must be stressed here that is largely due to its inability to source adequate supplies.
According to Reuters average number of new infections reported each day in Jamaica has risen by 130 over the last three weeks, that’s 18 per cent of its previous peak.
COVID infections in Jamaica are increasing with 190 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 28 per cent of the peak – the highest daily average reported on March 19.
The positivity rate is hovering around the 14 percent mark with the Government vowing to get it down to below 5 per cent.
Still, this underscores Dr Tufton’s assertion that messaging and marketing are vital in getting people to get out and get the vaccine. It is a war that social media and misinformation is winning in Jamaica.
Looking at it now J$442 million (less than US$3 million) is a paltry sum to ensure the protection of the citizenry and stem the cost borne by the healthcare sector. Put another way that is less than the salary Leon Baily will be making playing for Aston Villa.
“Talking about what had to be done by this marketing campaign, Dr Tufton said at the time,
“I am not envious of what they need to do, because it is a lot. Sometimes we get the impression when we see J$400 million, believing it is a lot.”
Spot on there Chris.
Chris Tufton is not a man to cudgel one with his case. He has an easy-going manner and is very intelligent and informed.
Just before the pandemic, I once heard him cautioning about the dangers that cruise ships were likely to face and the importance of putting precautionary measures in place. He was shot down, people who ought to know better were one-dimensional only seeing the need to bring more tourists into the country.
There were no loud retorts, no histrionics on Tufton’s part. He remained calm, a little rueful smile on his face. He did not press his position.
Months later, what happened?
Cruise ships were petri dishes for COVID and the industry had to shut down forthwith.
Chris Tufton could have crowed but he never did.
He will go down as one of Jamaica’s greatest government ministers because no other minister in the country’s 59-year-old history has had to face something of this magnitude. There can be little doubt that he has acquitted himself well. There has been one or two slips but that is to be expected – but in the main he has done an exceptional job, justifying why he is one of the country’s most popular and deemed most competent ministers.
The Ministry of Health could have been a political graveyard for him; as it turns out, it has been his nirvana where he has demonstrated both his abilities and capabilities. More importantly he has remained calm, steadfast and made himself available.
That can’t be said of some of the members of this present Cabinet.
President Biden set the United States the target of getting at least 70 per cent of its population vaccinated by the 4th of July. He has missed that by a month but still, not bad.
“We need to have at least 80 per cent of the population vaccinated to truly have some form of herd immunity. This is a fairly contagious virus,” said Dr. Paul Offit of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.
COVID is a deadly virus, make no mistake about that. So far, 4.3 billion vaccines have been administered in 180 countries and 4.3 million people have died from COVID according to Bloomberg.
Compare Jamaica’s approach to progressive Australia’s.
Realising it was slow with its vaccination rollout programme which has seen just 15 per cent of its population vaccinated as at the start of this month, it has now gone on a major drive with its Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisting that 80 per cent of its population needs to be vaccinated before reopening its borders.
Australia’s Trade Minister, Dan Tehen speaking with CNBC said, “ Obviously we need to get the vaccination rates up. And once we continue to get the vaccination rates up, we will look at quarantining arrangements.”
The Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese is proposing a one-off $300 payment to encourage Australians to get vaccinated.
Australia has taken the decision not to reopen its borders until mid-2022 despite attracting 9.5 million tourists a year.
On the other hand, Florida has declared itself open, a place where you can party and not be constrained by precautions. A state where no mask is required. Some even say there that COVID is a hoax.
Florida’s Governor Ron De Santis has accused the media of “hysteria” and said immigrants are bringing it into the state.
Today Florida leads the U.S. in new COVID cases as well as deaths caused by the virus. About 25 per cent of intensive care beds there are filled with COVID patients.
There is now a surge among younger adults.
In Jamaica, Dr Tufton has always stressed that conditions favour transmission. This is manifesting in Florida.
Chairman of the department of Epidemiology at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health, Dr Stephen Kimmel surmised, “In some ways it is a simple calculus. You have a variant that spreads much more easily, people who are contagious for a longer period of time, people who are vaccinated can probably carry it and spread it to others and the Delta variant is more dangerous and leading to more hospitalisations.
“First and foremost we need to get more people vaccinated. That’s the most important thing.”
According to the Financial Times, Florida hospitals hold 12,500 COVID patients, “the highest level since the pandemic began.”
“The Delta variant is ripping through the unvaccinated,” said CEO of the Florida Hospitals Association Mary Mayhew.
Now let that sink in Jamaica.