Jamaica and many of its residents of this beautiful, friendly nation known as the “Rock” by many locals, considerably depend on tourism for its economic livelihood, Unfortunately, the pandemic hit the livelihood of the majority of the population as a consequence of the impact COVID’s had on travel. The island nation in the Caribbean has experienced two spikes during the pandemic, the first during August to September 2020 and a second, far more severe spike starting February as reported by TrialSite in a wave that got considerably worse with cases approaching nearly 900 per day in early May. This nation of 3 million people has seen cases wane based on Johns Hopkins University data as the daily case count now hovers between 50 and 100 per day. As TrialSite reported on May 26, a prominent group of doctors submitted an open letter to government health officials to bring attention to accumulating data as to the benefit of ivermectin in low-to middle-income countries (LMICs) as they await vaccination. That’s because only about 5% of the Jamaican population have received one dose of a vaccine to date, and each week that the vaccination process stalls, the concern locally raises the specter of another spike, which the country cannot afford. It needs to be ready as America opens back up, and the Jamaican economy directly benefits, if people aren’t transmissible. Hence the interest in an ivermectin strategy among the doctors as an augmentation strategy for vaccination. This doesn’t differ from the big, wealthy neighbor to the north where the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are on the record that effective and safe antivirals of some sort or another will need to be in place in addition to mass vaccination and other public health measures.
TrialSite has developed relationships with some physicians and business people in this stunningly beautiful place, including one of the leading furniture manufacturers and engaged businessman Omar Azan, who recently shared some more information with TrialSite. Azan is part of a group of Jamaican business leaders concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the island’s economy if something doesn’t happen fast.
A recent update from the Planning Institute of Jamaica reveals the impact of the pandemic as the economy has contracted 5.7% while the services industry declined by 8.1%. One bright side is the goods-producing industry, as this sector is up 3% as more fundamental supplies to combat the pandemic may be produced locally here and elsewhere in the Caribbean, such as in Puerto Rico, etc.
But tourism represents a fundamental anchor for Jamaican livelihood, and as the United States and other countries hopefully emerge from this crisis, the hope down here is that the island will be ready to receive visitors.
Current Vaccination Moving at Snail’s Pace
Although one can make the case that the people of Jamaica are some of the richest on the planet when it comes to spirit, soul, and the possession of a friendly vibe, Jamaica isn’t a rich country materially. The country has struggled to bring in sufficient vaccine products to its population. According to Our World Data, less than 1% of the country has been fully vaccinated while those with at least one jab are over 5% now. Other local reports peg the number at 4.5%. Either way, it’s unacceptably low while in wealthy America, for example, there’s a growing surplus of vaccine products while vaccination rates have slowed considerably.
Apparently, the only vaccine product used thus far has been AstraZeneca, reports M. Azan. But the country recently purchased 1.5 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for $14 million, and that shipment is supposed to arrive by August. Nonetheless, vaccine programs down here move slowly, which won’t help the people if a variant spike arrives.
First, it should be noted that Jamaica’s sociodemographic reality is one of stratification and polarization. Like many developing nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and for that matter even significant patches of America, income distribution evidences a harsh reality in normal times, and even worse during a pandemic. In a nation where the wealthiest 20% of the country control nearly half of the national wealth, with the poorest quarter of the population controlling less than 10%, the public health infrastructure pays dearly during the pandemic, as do the poorest members of society.
In Jamaica, while the middle class and up do have access to private healthcare insurance coverage, those in the working poor and below depend on the public hospital system derived from the British National Health Service model. With good intentions, the system offers a number of public hospitals at no cost but the levels of service and care may not be close to what can be accessed via the private sector.
Any new spikes in coronavirus cases will further strain this already stretched public system and put people at grave risk. And as remdesivir is available for the wealthy on the island, a majority of the population don’t have access to any treatments. Much like in the Philippines, where TrialSite’s found the rich get remdesivir while the poor plead for ivermectin, another tropical place is pretty much the same.
This is why the group of prominent Jamaican doctors communicated the importance of a drug such as ivermectin as a strategy to anticipate and mitigate the risks of any future spikes.
As it turns out, there’s already a big demand for ivermectin on the Rock, via the black market. And of course, this is never good as, first, it’s illegal but secondly, those buying products cannot be certain what they’re buying. Finally, the prices are skyrocketing. What may cost in the U.S. between $10 or $20 dollars for a five-day treatment here costs several hundred dollars, well beyond most of the average person here is able to pay.
The Jamaican physicians, in their letter, referred to meta-analyses such as the one developed by Dr. Tess Lawrie with the British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (BIRD) and another one authored by the COVID-19 Front Line Critical Care Alliance in the United States. But the nation’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie, apparently, like a great majority of health medical officers, strictly follows WHO and apparently has refused to consider local inputs.
Some lobbying to the Minister of Health, Dr. Christopher Tufont, by the group and some of the businessmen, Azan reports hasn’t helped much either. Although Tufton has evangelized for Jamaicans to get vaccinated, there are few vaccine doses available. Not to mention vaccination counterbalances a local culture that values healthy living and organic foods. Establishing high demand for advanced medicines isn’t simple nor straightforward here on the Rock.
Back to the point of view of a pragmatic, free-market capitalist, Omar Azan, who thinks ivermectin is good for business, industry, and the economy. Declaring that if the government would accept the treatment as an interim measure while vaccination programs ramp up, they could help mitigate the risk of a potential next spike, he is convinced, again along with the group of doctors here that authored the letter, reducing the risk of further contagion and opening up the island for more tourism and other forms of business. That’s good for business owners and workers, especially in the tourist sector, driving up to 30% of the economy.
At times, if one industry, such as pharmaceuticals, becomes too powerful it can be to the detriment of many other business sectors, not to mention the society itself.