Jamaica’s struggle against COVID-19 and its Delta variant has been full of twists and turns. August 24, the third of a week-long “No Movement Day” restriction aimed at curbing a major surge in new infections, saw plenty of movement in and around vaccination centres in several rural areas, with the Ministry of Health and Wellness happily reporting that a record 21,000 doses had been administered.
Even before the presence of the Delta variant was confirmed on August 18, the number of new cases had been rising steeply, and now stand at 90 per cent of the peak on March 19. Currently, there is a daily average of 625 new infections. A portion of this spike was attributed to large entertainment events that were permitted over the Emancipation/Independence holidays in early August. By August 23, there were close to 14,000 active cases reported on the island, with 149 critically ill patients in hospital.
Blogger and human rights activist Susan Goffe painted a grim picture, noting that new cases had reached a record high by August 22:
We are in our third wave of Covid-19 in Jamaica […] indicators are all going in the wrong direction, with our vaccination levels too low to have any significant collective impact on the effects of this wave […]
The report issued [with data from August 23, 2021] saw a record number of new cases being confirmed — 879, the highest single day total since the start of the pandemic.
Our hospitals and medical personnel are being overwhelmed […] it is going to get worse before it gets better. Actions taken now, by the government and the people, can help to reduce further infections and further deaths. But downplaying what’s happening, wishing it weren’t so or ignoring the science will not.
A shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, the first of three tranches donated by the United States, arrived in Jamaica on August 19, with rollout starting just two days later, on August 21. The 208,260 doses were earmarked for the 12 to 18 age group in the hope that they will be able to return to physical school by October. Though slow at first, uptake increased rapidly as COVID numbers reached record highs over the weekend, with some adults also being allowed to take the Pfizer vaccine.
In an effort to encourage the population to get vaccinated, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ wife tweeted a family photo after their teenaged sons got the vaccine:
The question of parental consent for their children to be vaccinated has also arisen. Since the age of consent in Jamaica is 16, one youth advocacy group suggested that anyone older should not require parental consent:
One informal Twitter poll conducted by the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper agreed:
The push for vaccinations has gradually intensified, with bodies like the influential Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica mobilising its members to get their employees vaccinated:
Even the equally influential churches have come on board, participating in a webinar organised by the health ministry:
The Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) subsequently issued a press release strongly supporting the vaccine drive—a huge breakthrough, given that religious concerns were identified as a principal reason for vaccine hesitancy among Jamaicans. Referring to science as “a gift from God,” the August 23 release concluded:
We therefore implore, beseech and encourage all Jamaicans who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as it is possible, sparing no effort or cost. In addition, we encourage continued adherence to the long-established protocols […]
Our understanding of the sanctity of life demands that we work in personal and communal settings to preserve life and the quality of life.
One Twitter user shared her experience:
However, another suggested the rush to vaccination centres was sparked because Jamaicans are alarmed at the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections and continuous reports of overwhelmed medical facilities:
Yet, at least one centre offering AstraZeneca seemed to be quieter:
Men’s interest in the Pfizer vaccine, one columnist humorously suggested, might be piqued by the company’s manufacture of another drug:
Whatever the motivation for getting “vaxxed”, the Jamaican government is keeping fingers crossed that the momentum of the record-breaking day will continue. With one of the lowest vaccination rates in Latin American and the Caribbean, it has a lot of catching up to do.