On 16 December 2021 my wife and I attended at a vaccination centre and got our booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. It was a smooth, seamless process. This simple but important act was done to ensure the health and safety of ourselves, our immediate family, our wider family, our work colleagues, and other connections.  In short, we were carrying out our patriotic duty.

Later that afternoon, as I reflected on the day’s events, I went musing. My enquiring mind wanted to know the state of vaccination in Jamaica, in the English-speaking Caribbean countries, and in the world.

The website of the World Health Organization reveals the following vaccination percentage rates as of 17 December 2021.  These rates are for fully vaccinated persons.

Top Ten Countries with the Highest Vaccination rates

  1. United Arab Emirates 91.2
  2. Portugal 87.8
  3. Chile 85.7
  4. Singapore 83.4
  5. Cuba 82.9
  6.  Cambodia 81.2
  7.  South Korea 81.0
  8. Spain 79.8
  9. Malaysia 78.9
  10. Denmark 77.1

Top Ten Countries with the lowest Vaccination rates

  1. Haiti 0.6
  2. Ethiopia 1.3
  3. Nigeria 2.09
  4.  Sudan 2.8
  5. Uganda 2.8
  6. Ghana 5.0
  7. Cote D’Ivorie 5.7
  8. Guinea 6.2
  9. Kenya 6.5
  10. Afghanistan 9.2

Vaccination rates of English-Speaking Caribbean countries

  1. Cayman Islands 85.9
  2. Turks & Caicos Islands 70.1 
  3. Anguilla 61.1
  4. Antigua & Barbuda 59.1  
  5. British Virgin Islands 55.2
  6. Barbados 48.7
  7.  St. Kitts & Nevis 47.5
  8. Trinidad & Tobago 47.0
  9. Bahamas 37.1
  10. Guyana 36.4
  11. Grenada31. 1  
  12. Montserrat 28.4
  13. St. Lucia 26.3
  14. St. Vincent 21.8
  15.  Jamaica 18.5

 The fact is that as of 17 December 2021, Jamaica, with the largest population in the English-speaking Caribbean, has the lowest vaccination rate.

As the English-speaking Caribbean countries have a not dissimilar history — slavery, British colonialism, populations of a largely African descent (Guyana and Trinidad being excepted), labour/employer struggles, I wondered what has accounted for these disparities in vaccination rates.  Is it in part because of the literacy level in this country? Is it because the average GDP per-capita in Jamaica is the lowest in the English-speaking Caribbean? [See the Chart below] Is it because Jamaica has, perhaps, the smallest middle class per capita?  Or is it a combination of all the above? Frankly, I do not have the answer to these questions and as my crystal ball has gone opaque, I will not guess. However, I do hope that the data-driven research will be conducted by one of our many universities to find probable answers to these questions.

GDP per capita in US Dollars English-speaking Caribbean World Bank data 2020

GDP per capita in US Dollars English-speaking Caribbean World Bank data 2020

Antigua & Barbuda $13,992.7

Bahamas $25,194.0

Barbados $15,373.9

Cayman Islands $85,082.5

Dominica $7,003.9

Grenada $9,261.6

Guyana $6,955.9

Jamaica $4,664.5

St. Kitts & Nevis $18,437.7 

St. Lucia $8,804.6

St Vincent & the Grenadines $7,278.0

Trinidad & Tobago $15,425.6

Turks & Caicos $23,879.9

I also mused on the effect of the eventual vaccine apartheid in this country.

The other undisputed fact is that Jamaica’s anaemic vaccination rate is not caused by vaccine inequity or a shortage of vaccines.

Jamaica does not have a vaccine shortage.  On Friday 17 December 2021, The Jamaica Observer carried the following report.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, says that with over 1.1 million doses of combined COVID vaccines available in Jamaica, there are no “excuses” for individuals not to get vaccinated.

The minister, who was speaking at a virtual press conference on Wednesday, said that having the population fully vaccinated is even more important now that the feared Omicron variant looms as a clear and present danger to the island.

“We really do not have any excuses not to get vaccinated. We have the inventory, we have the brands, and we have over 250 vaccination sites islandwide to deliver…whether private sites or public sites…we have a vaccination site within five miles of your average community in Jamaica,” Dr Tufton said. “I really want to take the opportunity to encourage Jamaicans to go out and get their shots…to protect themselves.

According to a release, the Government has received an additional 200,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the United States as a gift, part of the over 600,000 that had been promised. Dr Tufton also disclosed that in addition to just 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, a further breakdown shows that Jamaica also has 386,000 doses of the AstraZeneca: 130,635 of the Johnson & Johnson and 198,470 of the Sinopharm.

“I can’t emphasise the point enough that vaccine availability is not the issue. If we were to utilise this quantity to apply the dosage that is necessary, the full initial dose barring the booster shots, we could inoculate some 625,000 Jamaicans,” he shared. “It means that we have no complaints, and the concern now is to get rid of the vaccine…in the proper way…and the way we would like…that we have now in inventory.”

The country’s disastrously low vaccination rate lays squarely on the reluctance of most of the people to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  Our citizens willingly get vaccinated against almost everything else!

So, why aren’t more Jamaicans not getting vaccinated against COVID-19? Is it for health, or religious, or lifestyle reasons, or for fear of the unknown or of the science or the “Science”, or because of obstinacy? Has a scientific study been carried out to determine the reasons?  Has there been any scientific polling as to the reasons? We will not be able to treat fully with the issue until we know, with some precision, the reasons for the failure of our citizens to be vaccinated.

The one thing that we can say with some degree of assurance is that in 2022 an increasingly large number of Jamaicans will be denied the opportunity of enjoying various live events. It will start with sporting events, transition to entertainment and cultural events and finally end up with most events except those such as public health, public education, and law and justice matters.  The unvaccinated will become pariahs at public events not organised by the government and quangos.

The government’s recent approval for the Jamaica Football Federation to have 5,000 fully vaccinated spectators in the National Stadium to watch the Jamaica v USA World Cup football qualifier was only the harbinger of things to come.

 The government has clearly signalled that this is the way of the future. In the Daily Gleaner of 6 December 2021 Dr The Hon. Christopher Tufton is reported as follows:

“Increasingly, what you are seeing is that events are going to be organised around proof of vaccination, so proof of vaccination could allow or disallow people who are not vaccinated from accessing certain events, and you are seeing more of that. Hopefully that will also bring some pressure to bear on persons who are not vaccinated,” Tufton said in a Gleaner interview.

“I think that is a trend that is evolving and will evolve even more and I believe rightfully so, because I do think that persons who take the time to get vaccinated and protect themselves should be given the opportunities to partake in activities which give them the protection or do not pose the risk to those who are unvaccinated within that environment.”

The government proposes to roll out the digital vaccination card with a QR code later this month. This will be the equivalent of the apartheid era passbook. On this occasion, it is self-induced.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

One thought on “Vaccine Apartheid

  1. You have raised some good nteresting questions. What creates such resistance against the covid-19 vaccines when all of us who have attended school here got our vaccines? Our parents made sure we were vaccinated. So, how is this vaccine different? As you rightly state, it may be the unknowns. Two doses made one fully vaccinated (J&J the exception). Now, boosters are required. I srael is even considering a fourth dose. So fully vaccinated status may change.

    One thing is for certain, when people start being restricted from accessing certain services/events, take up may increase. I only hope the MoH’s digital vaccine certificate, which I downloaded yesterday is hack-proof. Why? There is just too much Anancy-ism here (and elsewhere too) but this is where I live.

    Happy holidays. Be safe.

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