Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Government has given great consideration to its deliberations on the Covid-19 vaccines, being careful to ensure the selection of only safe and approved vaccines for Jamaica.
The Prime Minister says while much has been said about the Government’s handling of the process to acquire vaccines, the Government continues to work assiduously behind the scenes until the discussions are at a point where they can be publicly disclosed.
“The fact that vaccine discussions have not been made public is not indicative of a lack of action by the Government,” said Prime Minister Holness.
The Prime Minister notes that the gap between the point of initiation of negotiations and the point of fruition resulted in the creation of an unhelpful narrative around Jamaica’s vaccine preparation. He says persons have sought to exploit that gap by creating narratives of chaos and confusion which is quite unfortunate especially concerning a matter of such great national importance.
According to the Prime Minister, the Government of Jamaica was among the first to declare that once there is an “available and certified as safe vaccine” the Government will accept it on behalf of the people.
The Prime Minister disclosed; “We have to depend on global institutions because we do not have the institutions here to certify definitively whether a vaccine is safe. These are considerations that your Government takes on your behalf.”
The Prime Minister went on to note that the Government does not take decisions regarding the health of Jamaicans lightly and that it has not been cavalier but has chosen to prioritize the safety of citizens.
“We can’t just secure any deal; there are different types of vaccines and we have to consider all the factors in negotiating the ones for our country,” Prime Minister Holness said.
The Prime Minister further noted that among the considerations are the storage and distribution logistics, “What we would not want is to bring vaccines here and we are not ready to distribute them. The vaccines have a definite shelf life and so we have to time supplies to make sure that when the vaccines arrive in the country we can distribute very quickly.”
In the meantime, the Prime Minister said that the public would be aware that larger countries that produce and have the capacity to purchase vaccines are prioritizing their citizens first.
“We are part of a multilateral system and we [the Government], from a foreign policy and strategic reasons, we defend multilateralism and that is why we participate in things like COVAX and the African platform which will secure supplies for countries like Jamaica who may not have the resources and the capacity but even then, we are not going to be first in the line,” said Prime Minister Holness. The Prime Minister noted that he has also spoken out in international media about the need for smaller countries to access the vaccines and for larger countries not to engage in the practice of vaccine hoarding.
Continuing, the Prime Minister underscored that Jamaica has no time to waste on “cheap politics” and will continue in the best interest of Jamaicans.
Prime Minister Holness says the Cabinet has settled on three fundamental principles to guide vaccination in the island.
- Principle 1 – Equity; Those who need it the most; the most vulnerable.
- Principle 2 – Efficiency; if the vaccine is offered and rejected, the Government will proceed to the next person because of the short-shelf-life of the vaccine and the risk of significant loss should the vaccines expire while the Government waits for people to make their decision.
- Principle 3 – Transparency; all Ministers and political personnel have been directed not to interfere in the established schedule of inoculation.
The Prime Minister asserts that there will be serious consequences if there is a breach of any of the principles. He said; “The public must be assured that there is no favoritism in vaccination. So, once the Health Minister and his team, meaning the Permanent Secretary, the CMO and the other hard-working Officials of the Ministry of Health and Wellness determine what that vaccination schedule and priority is, then nobody should try to over-ride the process, that cannot work.”
In the meantime, the Prime Minister expressed gratitude to the Government of India for their generous donation of 50,000 units of the vaccine which is scheduled to arrive in the island in short order.