Editorial: Vaccine procurement hesitancy is the problem

A vial of COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of COVID-19 vaccine (Photo credit: Artem Podrez)

Jamaica continues on its path of mendicancy because it is having difficulties securing vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO) COVAX facility which supplies developing countries. Jamaica, like other developing countries, made arrangements to purchase from COVAX. The facility has insufficient vaccines because the majority of the vaccines have been gobbled up by rich countries guided by vaccine nationalism. This kind of nationalism is no fault of the Jamaican Government, but short-sightedness is. Making an arrangement with COVAX was the right thing to do. However, the government placed all its eggs in one basket, COVAX. The government started to scamper to get vaccines from India, Mexico and elsewhere, begging here and begging there, after COVAX had difficulty getting vaccines.

In a scenario where the lives and livelihood of Jamaican citizens are at risk and the economy is in a deep slump because of the COVID-19 virus, why didn’t the government make multiple arrangements to secure vaccines at the outset? This is the million-dollar question which the government will never answer while it continues to pat itself on the back for a job well done. Jamaica, in the last 40 years, has not rolled out a public policy without major implementation itches. This “helter skelter” approach to policy implementation points to poor governance and is unacceptable!

Although some Jamaicans are hesitant to take the vaccines, the majority are willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine because they have seen the benefit of being vaccinated against polio, rubella and tuberculosis and so on. The huge crowds at vaccination centres across the country suggest that many Jamaicans are willing to be vaccinated. The problem now is not vaccine hesitancy but procurement hesitancy.

The problem of procurement hesitancy is also highlighted by the fact that Cuba has an excellent biotechnology infrastructure and is making COVID-19 vaccines but the Jamaican Government has not made any arrangement to secure vaccines from Cuba after they have passed clinical trials and accepted by the WHO. The government cannot be serious. There is the view that the government is afraid to approach Cuba because it might incur the wrath of the United States. This possibility is unlikely and can be mitigated if the government engages the Cubans through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in which Cuba has observer status. The government should stop blaming vaccine nationalism for the shortage of vaccines in Jamaica and solve the problem of procurement hesitancy.

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