India temporary suspends vaccine exports; Tufton reacts in Jamaica

Health and Wellness Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, is imploring Jamaicans to continue to exercise vigilance in observing the coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols.

The call comes as India announces a temporary suspension of vaccine exports to focus on its domestic vaccination programme, which could cause disruption in supplies to countries.

Cases of COVID-19 have spiked in India, with more than 700 new variants discovered.

India is the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer and has been supplying countries around the world, including providing millions of doses to the COVAX facility for developing nations such as Jamaica.

The Government of India donated 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Jamaica to enable the country to start its vaccination programme on March 10.

Speaking to journalists during a visit to the Mandeville Regional Hospital in Manchester on Thursday (March 25), to observe the vaccination of senior citizens, Dr. Tufton said that vaccine nationalism or the hoarding of vaccines by the manufacturing country “started long ago”.

“So this is just now making it official in the case of one country, but it is the same challenge we face in Europe, the same challenge we face in the United States, and it has been very difficult.

“Now we have a formal announcement that there is going to be a delay because India wants to keep it for its population because of the surge in that country. India is the largest manufacturer of vaccines and so their coming off the world market as a supplier would create dislocation and some shortages,” he pointed out.

Dr. Tufton noted that the COVAX facility and the African Medical Supply Platform account for three of the four million doses of the vaccines Jamaica has ordered, but they would also be challenged to deliver because of what is happening in India and other parts of the world.

“We are cautiously optimistic, but it is more likely that you will see some delays than none at all. So what we have to do is ensure that we maintain the protocols of mask wearing, sanitising and maintaining social distance. Even if we have vaccines now, we wouldn’t benefit from the type of herd immunity that we desire as a country,” he pointed out.

As it relates to persons receiving their second dose of the vaccine, Dr. Tufton said that the chances of more vaccines becoming available on the market are greatly enhanced over the next three months, when the follow-up shots are due.

This, he said, as countries now holding back supplies for their local populations reach a point of vaccine hesitancy, where people are not taking it, or the population targeted for inoculation has been exhausted.

“In addition to that, there are other vaccines coming on the market, I think, in short order. The World Health Organization (WHO) is looking at vaccines out of China, Sputnik from Russia; 83 vaccines are in clinical trials now. So I do believe that with every month, you will see more coming on the market with greater production and more availability,” Dr. Tufton said.

“So… there is no doubt in my mind that persons will get their second dose. They have between two and three months. What I will say is that there is no harm done even if they miss that initial deadline, because the fact that they got one jab gives them some protection than if they got none at all,” he assured.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton expressed satisfaction with the number of senior citizens who turned out at the Mandeville Hospital to receive their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Close to 100 persons had registered online, while several others within the targeted age cohort had turned up without an appointment.

“We are not turning away anyone. If we can accommodate them, we do,” Dr Tufton said.

“Generally speaking, the administration of the vaccine has gone well. There are many expressions of thanks by those who benefited and I have seen no one with any adverse reaction,” he said.

Dr. Tufton’s visit to the hospital was part of a tour of sites within the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA), where persons 75 years and older are being vaccinated.

He also stopped at the May Pen Hospital in Clarendon and the Summerfield Community Centre in the parish, where the Chapelton Community Hospital is being temporarily housed, and the Balaclava Health Centre in St. Elizabeth.

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