Post-Vaccination Deaths In Jamaica Now 42
Roughly 1.39 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Jamaica, and “to date” there have been 42 post-vaccination deaths.
That’s according to the Ministry of Health & Wellness and Dr. Melody Ennis, head of the country’s vaccination program. She was answering questions from 18º North at a virtual press conference by the ministry on Thursday.
The number of deaths reflects a jump of 83% from the 23 reported in October, the last time a report on deaths was made available by the ministry. While there can sometimes be a lag between when a death occurs and when a report is received, the 83% rise is faster than the roughly 63% increase in vaccine doses administered over the same time period.
The questions from 18º North were prompted after Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton touted the benefit of vaccines and said that for those who’ve had doubts about the newness and soundness of the vaccine, “It’s been two years now, and the reality is nobody has died because they’ve taken the vaccines. We have no evidence of that in Jamaica.”
When asked how he accounted for the death reported by 18º North of 68-year-old Rupert Dixon in October whose death certificate issued from a local public hospital showed that he had died of a stroke and that thrombosis after Covid-19 vaccination contributed to his death, he didn’t answer.
Instead, Dr. Ennis answered and spoke generally since she said she couldn’t discuss individual cases.
“As Minister rightly said, we have looked at some of the deaths. Not all because we don’t have enough information to complete the cases. However, the ones we have looked at they have not been found to be caused by the vaccine.” (Two of the eleven were indeterminate temporal.)
Dr. Ennis confirmed that causality had been determined in just eleven cases - the same number she has been reporting since July. A committee usually determines causality. Dr. Ennis said the majority of these persons are over the age of 78 and had underlying conditions.
Overall, there were about 850 ESAVIs, which are Events Supposedly Attributable to Vaccination or Immunization, and these could include milder side effects like dizziness, fever and headaches. Of those, 176 were considered serious, meaning they resulted in death, hospitalization, disability, were life-threatening or were medically significant after the administration of a vaccine. Dr. Ennis has stressed that an ESAVI report does not mean the vaccine caused these injuries.
The 42 post-vaccination deaths pale in comparison to the almost 2,900 Covid-19 related deaths recorded in Jamaica since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.
Dr. Tufton said with “90+ percentage” of persons who’ve been hospitalized or died from Covid being those who chose not to get vaccinated, “Sometimes we major in the minor, and as a consequence, it distracts from the substantial issues over what has transpired over the past two years.”
That rationale from the minister, who sets policy direction, may help explain why the ministry has not released routine data on post-vaccination events despite a promise from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie in April last year that “We will be transparent in our reporting” on adverse events.
When asked by 18º North on Thursday why she has failed to live up to that promise, she deferred to Dr. Ennis, who didn’t answer and who merely started giving an overview of the latest numbers. (The ministry usually only gives an overview of these numbers when asked.)
Reality Check: With Jamaica’s Low Vaccination Rate, How Do We Stack Up Against Other Countries on Covid-19 Related Deaths?
Jamaica has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the region, with less than a quarter of the population fully immunized against Covid-19.
Still, Dr. Tufton said on Thursday that Jamaica’s death per capita rate “has been better than the world average and fairly significantly so.”
While the data pulled from Our World in Data show that, on the contrary, Jamaica at 967 Covid deaths per million persons exceeds the world average and the rate of its neighbors like the Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, it does fall below developed nations like the U.S., U.K. and Canada. All these six countries have more than double the vaccination rate of Jamaica.
The highest number of deaths per million recorded in the world has been 6,356 in Peru, where more than three-quarters of the population is fully vaccinated.
Former head of the School of Public Health and Health Technology at the University of Technology in Jamaica, Retired Prof. Winston Davidson, says the island has been able to get away with a low vaccination rate in part because “the population at risk is a smaller percentage of the population compared to other countries that have older populations.”
According to the site World Population Review, the median age in Jamaica is 26 compared to 38 and above in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. (However, it’s also at 40 and above in Cayman and Cuba, and even though those populations are older, they’re faring better than Jamaica in terms of deaths per million persons.)
Prof. Davidson also credits the various measures that were put in place like blocking infected persons from coming into the country, mandatory mask-wearing in public, handwashing and sanitization stations being placed in schools, and other interventions by the private sector.
There were also curfews. But now some of these protocols have gone away as Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness this month abandoned the Disaster Risk Management Act in favor of less stringent measures.
Dr. Edwin Michael, who lectures on infectious disease epidemiology at the University of South Florida says, “the problem with social measures is that as soon as these measures are lifted while vaccinations are not ramped up, cases will increase rapidly. This is because you will have a large fraction who are still susceptible.”
That’s why CMO Dr. Bisasor McKenzie is still urging Jamaicans to get vaccinated.
“We are particularly vulnerable if it is that we have a strain that causes a severe illness,” she said. “Vaccination protects against severe illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.”
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