Under-75s join vaccination blitz as 1,000 get COVID shots

Jonielle Daley/Gleaner Writer

The political machinery was critical in mobilising the 1,038 people who received their COVID-19 shot at Saturday’s vaccination blitz, but droves of persons under 75 were inoculated as younger seniors tried their luck because of lower-than-expected take-up from the targeted cohort.

One political representative, who requested anonymity, said that councillors and members of parliament were urged privately to take in others who were 60 and older if they were not able to drum up sufficient support among the over-75s. Five members of parliament in Kingston and St Andrew were urged to hit a quota of 100 each.

Saturday’s turnout exceeded the overall target of 1,000.

The blitz at the National Arena in Kingston was the second such mass inoculation event aimed at cranking up vaccination of Jamaica’s elderly to compensate for hiatuses caused by two of three consecutive weekend lockdowns. The no-movement order has been imposed to curb a rapid upswing of infections and deaths since early February.

It was evident from early Saturday that the blitz would surpass the numbers of the previous weekend’s thrust, which recorded 642 vaccinations – or just under 65 per cent of the goal of 1,000 shots.

Though the blitz officially started at 10 a.m., persons were in line from before 7 a.m.

“Deep breath! Deep breath!” said public health nurse Gracia Lafayette to 76-year-old Masie Francis, who was among a group of persons transported by Lorraine Dobson, councillor for the Springfield division in Kingston East and Port Royal.

Though she was trembling out of fear of needles, Francis said she was eager to be vaccinated because she has underlying conditions, a feature that makes persons, especially the elderly, more prone to severe bouts of illness, and death, if they contract the respiratory disease.

Registered midwife Sudeen Smith-Henry told The Gleaner approximately two hours into Saturday’s mass vaccination that based on the number of vials used, they had surpassed the doses administered by that time at a blitz the previous weekend.

“Last week, I think it moved a bit smoother than today because everybody that came the last time, they were registered on the system,” she said.

Smith-Henry noted that there have been improvements in the operational execution by health personnel as vaccination progressed.

Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, who is also member of parliament for Kingston Western, said that 80 people from his constituency were registered since the call to action was extended to political representatives on Tuesday to assist in the vaccination campaign.

“We provided transport for them, ensured that they had breakfast before they came, when they are finished. We ensured that they had lunch and then we take them out,” he told The Gleaner.

Julian Robinson, member of parliament for St Andrew South East, said though a town crier roved throughout his constituency on Thursday and Friday, it was still difficult to get persons to turn up for the jab.

“There is a lot of misinformation and people are sceptical about whether the vaccine will hurt or harm, so it has been difficult getting people out,” said Robinson.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton was heartened at the turnout, disclosing that just over 400 people had been vaccinated up to noon on Saturday.

The health ministry plans to host 25 vaccination blitzes over three months. The locations will spread across 12 parishes for the weekend of April 9.

Each of the 63 MPs has been tasked with mobilising 100 seniors for vaccination. All told, that would account for 6,300 elderly people.

In order to achieve herd immunity of around 65 per cent, the Holness administration aims to target 1.9 million people for coronavirus vaccination by March 2022. That would require immunisation at the pace of 35,000 vaccinations per week.

Healthy ministry data show that 40,663 people have been confirmed with having the virus. More than half of those cases are active. There have been 615 deaths.

jonielle.daley@gleanerjm.com