Speech by the Prime Minister

First Shipment of Vaccine to Arrive in Jamaica

A wonderful day, but in particular, our health workers, all the doctors and nurses, and other frontline workers to particularly wish for them, very productive, very happy, international women’s day. We truly do appreciate the work and the sacrifice that you have made.

I’m also very happy, very happy to report to Jamaica today that this afternoon we received our first shipment of 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the government of India. We express our deep appreciation to the government and people of India for this very much needed support. 

Our vaccination program will begin later this week starting with our healthcare workers as announced last week… and Minister Tufton who’s here with me will give more details as to exactly how this will be rolled out. 

Now, based on the latest report from this morning, Jamaica recorded 878 new cases of COVID-19. This is the third consecutive day of record numbers with 527 reported on Saturday and 723 reported on Sunday.
Our cumulative cases of COVID-19 are now 26,904 and 454 persons have died due to the pandemic. I offer my sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones. 

We have had 14,447 persons who have recovered and our recovery rate is now at 53.7%. The number of active cases that is the number of persons who still have the virus is at 11,770. Now, yesterday with 878 positive cases out of a total sample of 2,696 tested, this yields a positivity rate of 32.6%. However, the public sector test positivity rate, which is based on the more reliable PCR test was 39% and as was explained in our last press conference, after you have corrected for tests coming from the private sector sources and just accounting for PCR tests, you would have this number, which is much higher than the general testing that was done.

I want to pause here to adopt Minister Tufton’s new phrase “let that sink in” and without pleasantry, without being amused at the matter, this is very serious. We are now in the danger zone and what is happening is that, by virtue of our past success, by virtue of delaying this point for more than a year since the pandemic, there are those who believe that we have passed the worst.

Yes, we are in the darkest hour of the pandemic and yes, it will pass at some time, but exactly how that happens depends on how you as an individual, as a citizen, as a worker, as a mother, father, you as the individual, it depends on what you do. Some of you would have seen the reports that we are now, for example, having challenges with oxygen tanks. You would have seen reports of persons going to the hospitals and not being able to get the treatment they require. Indeed, unfortunately, some have died. I’ve gotten the first-hand reports of persons who have gone to the hospital having breathing challenges, showing symptoms of COVID-19 and were pointed to other hospitals because the hospital that they have gone to just simply had no beds. And there is a sense that this could not happen to me.
Indeed, when we see the videos of people keeping parties in this spirit of time and people enjoying themselves, the sense that you get from it, is as if to say I am invincible, this couldn’t have to be because I am not in the vulnerable age group. You may very well not be in the vulnerable age group, but your grandmother is, the people that you work with are, those that you take the bus with are, this kind of selfishness cannot be allowed to continue in our society.

I’ve been very careful as your chief steward, not to in any way, give the impression that the authority that we have under law to restrict movement and prescribe how we gather and other such measures, not to ever give the impression that we are abusing them and that we are doing it because we can do it.

We have always tried to be balanced, whatever it is that we do in terms of measures, it has to be based on evidence and as we have pointed out before, we look at two critical factors before we act. We look at the number of infections. Well, three, we look at the number of infections, the positivity rate, and the number of beds. In the early stages of the pandemic, we acted on the trigger of the number of cases.

You would recall when we put up that trigger line, when we just started to do the controlled re-entry. You will recall that when we decided to put in some of the quarantine measures in communities, for example, in St. Thomas and St. Mary, we looked at the positivity rate. Now, we are at that very critical trigger line and that is the number of beds because this trigger line is directly linked to the mortality rate.

If people can’t get treated in hospitals, and obviously if you have to go to the hospitality, it is because you will have dire symptoms, it is likely that you could have a fatal event as a result of the lack of hospitals space. So your need to party and be free and go about not wearing your mask has to be balanced against the need of someone who will be deprived of care, because we simply have no beds.

My conscience is clear that we have done all that we can in balancing lives and livelihoods. At this stage, the equation and the balance has now shifted to saving lives.

You would have seen recently, but it has been the case that there are those who would wish to challenge the authority of the state in ways that even the most liberal Jamaican would believe is a threat to the rule of law and the order and discipline, and indeed the justice of the society. We’re all free people in Jamaica. Freedom is paramount. Freedom is the ultimate. Freedom is the Jamaican dream; however, we are not free to be irresponsible. With great freedom, comes great responsibility and as a citizen of this country, you have a responsibility more than enforcement, more than compulsion but a duty to follow the law.

We are now, in the danger zone, the numbers will continue to rise. It is the nature of the pandemic. I don’t like to call down the worst, but if we do not get these numbers down, It is likely that the mortality rate could also rise. So, in this phase of the management of the pandemic, the government has to remain strident, it has to remain resolute in the measures that we have implemented. And I wish to prepare the Jamaican people that if the numbers do not improve, then as I had said earlier, there are other measures which we will put in place.

These measures will have an impact on the economy. It will have even greater impact on your ability to move. It will have even greater impact on your ability to gather.
It really depends on what you will do at this point in time.

The vaccines are now with us. We have our first tranche of vaccines, 50,000 doses. Thanks to the selflessness, thanks to the kindness, thoughtfulness of the people of India and I, again, wish to thank my good friend Prime Minister Modi, for his consideration of Jamaica as one of the countries that should benefit from the vaccines.

There has been much talk about how we go about getting the vaccines. I wish to say it to the Jamaican people today, Jamaica is not a producer of vaccines. We don’t have the technology and the manufacturing capacity. Jamaica, like many other countries in the world, we are in the queue waiting for vaccine supplies.
We have made sure to set aside the budget to purchase vaccines. We are always following all the possible avenues to get vaccines. There are many countries richer than Jamaica, greater capacity than Jamaica, and they have not yet gotten vaccines. There are many countries that have secured vaccines, they have paid down on the vaccines, but they simply have not gotten the supply.
It is the reality of the international vaccine supply and demand. 

Right now, we have secured the 50,000 vaccines courtesy of India. We will get another tranche, this time from COVAX, which is about 14,400 and then in a few weeks’ time, we will get another hundred thousand and that is from other avenues that we are pursuing.

I want to assure the nation; your Government is acting with the highest level of responsibility in this regard. Before we take on any vaccine, we have to be sure of its safety and efficacy. Sometimes the conversation is as if we can ignore that and it always leads me to wonder God has placed you here at the right time, because were it others,
what would they have done based upon what they are saying now?

We know the scepticism that is abroad in our country regarding vaccines and if we’re going to overcome that scepticism, the only way to do that is to be certain in the procurement of the vaccine, that we are getting the safest vaccine with the highest level of efficacy. We are giving you that assurance. So, we know that there will be significant take-up of the vaccines. We are not rushing in, in a willy nilly unthoughtful way. We’re being very careful and strategic in what we do.

Now, the programme will be unveiled in more details today, but like all programmes as we go along, it will be refined as new situations emerge, as new priorities become evident, we will have to make adjustments.
However, we have put forward the principles on which vaccines will be made available to the public in keeping with the recommended priority order by the WHO; we start with our public health workers, our doctors, nurses, attendants and orderlies and our CMO has provided that list and how they will be contacted and how they will be scheduled, all of that will be explained today.

We then go on to our security forces starting of course, with the Jamaica Constabulary Force and then the Jamaica Defence Force; they will be in that first batch. And when that is complete or close to completion, then we begin to vaccinate the general demographic, 60 and older.

There are questions raised about whether or not politicians will get the vaccines before everyone else. Raging debate took place and we saw comments coming from the medical community and let me be clear, and I’ve always been clear with this and to the Cabinet that we must lead by example and there are two examples to be set here. 

The first example is the vaccine is safe enough for the leaders to take. And the second example is that regardless of who you are in this society, once the rule is set, you will abide by the rule. There are those who say the leaders must take it first and then there are those who say no, they must wait. You can’t win. What they’re saying obviously is that a young 48-year-old minister should not take it before a 60 odd year old and there is merit in the argument, but what I have come to understand about my own country and my own people is we have an incredible sense of social justice. What is right, for too long, our country, people have stood by and said it is those who know others and who are connected, they are the ones who are going to get true and the pressures have already started, but I’m committed to ensuring that the distribution of the vaccine does not fall in this category of nationally important goods to be distributed, where people break the line and because of connections they get because it is a lifesaving commodity, it is a life-saving goods and so people must have faith. 

And for another reason, I know there are those who are saying, they’re not going to take the vaccine. I bet you any money that within the first four or five weeks of vaccination, everybody’s going to want to come and take the vaccine so you’re going to have long queues and lines and people piling up. And if there is ever the view that the vaccine is not fairly distributed, everybody will want to break the line because they will feel they will never get and indeed that is the situation of scarcity and the distribution of things which have been described as spoils in Jamaica. We can’t afford that in this exercise. 

This will be the largest logistics exercise that we have undertaken except for mobilizing for our national election and we cannot feel in this regard. 

So, I think I’ve said enough, I’ll invite the minister of health to come and tell us about the vaccines and the CMO I’m certain will give support.