Mon | May 16, 2022

Gordon Robinson | The frustrating task of getting a booster shot

Published:Sunday | January 2, 2022 | 12:09 AM
It’s not true Jamaicans don’t want to be vaccinated. It’s just too difficult for most.
It’s not true Jamaicans don’t want to be vaccinated. It’s just too difficult for most.

This is the sad tale of an elderly couple trying to be boosted against Omicron.

The Old Ball and Chain and I received second doses on June 15 so were scheduled for boosters as of December 15. But Old BC was ill (not with the plague), so on medical advice, we waited until after Christmas. But applying the Girl Scouts’ Motto (always be prepared), I hopped on to the Health Ministry’s website on December 23 to book an appointment. Clicking on “Vaccination resources”, I was greeted with this welcome message:

“Click here to book a COVID-19 appointment to get your first, second, additional or booster doses.”

So I did. After going through a simple process of entering Old BC’s cell phone number (the only one we have) and receiving a password, I was directed to a registration form to be filled out. But the form insists that you inform the ministry whether you are coming for your first or second shot. There’s no “additional or booster dose” option. There’s no “N/A” option. You MUST pick one or two, which kinda reminded me of kindergarten, where teacher would insist you predict whether you were going to do number one or number two (hand must be raised with one or two fingers pointed upwards) when you asked to go to the bathroom. So I did the best I could and chose “2”.

The form then gave a choice among the vaccines available, but the question was framed as if it was asking which vaccine you already took. I answered truthfully. Finally, an appointment was fixed for Tuesday, December 28, at UHWI at 11.00 a.m. I repeated the form-filling exercise for Old BC, and the appointments were confirmed separately by e-mail.

On the appointed day, we arrived at the site with 30 minutes to spare. The parking security guard warned us tat only Astra-Zeneca/Johnson and Johnson vaccines were available, but that didn’t deter us as we believed fervently, based on Health Ministry marketing, that the best vaccine was the one available.

At Hospitality Hall, we were greeted most pleasantly by a staff of senior and junior nurses supervising an almost empty site. When we told them we were here for boosters, they told us a sad story. Apparently, they were only authorised by the ministry to give booster shots on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Today was Tuesday. I told them what had happened on the website. They didn’t appear surprised.

“But,” I said as calmly as I could, “the same ministry is throwing away vaccines while we are here now willing to take whatever vaccine you have.”

“So sorry,” Sister replied with obvious compassion “but ninistry says we can only use Pfizer as booster”.

I asked about Mona Aging and Wellness Centres, where we received our first two shots and which were excellently managed on both occasions. There, we’d experienced military assistance (first shot); sanitised seats in the waiting area; multiple tents with physical distance among waiting-area seats despite a massive turnout; and a very smooth, efficient, orderly mass inoculation system.

“They’re closed for the week,” nurse advised.

So because we are fortunate to have a motor car available, we tootled off to St Joseph’s to see what could be achieved. The process there was not only chaotic but downright dangerous in the light of the Omicron spread. Persons waiting for first, second, and third shots were all together, and at least one low-level worker wandered about maskless, shouting instructions, acting as valet parking for an incoming V.I.P. (maybe a doctor), and then taking a seat in front of us. After 30 minutes, we gave up on trying for a booster/virus combo and left.

A DIFFICULT PROCESS

On Wednesday, we bravely set out early to conquer the New World and arrived at Hospitality Hall shortly after 9.00 a.m. This time, we encountered a huge crowd (as at St Joseph’s). So it’s not true that Jamaicans don’t want to be vaccinated. It’s just too difficult for most.

We were given a number in the 70s and a single sheet of paper (no hard surface anywhere upon which to rest it for writing) asking for the exact information the ministry took for our first and second shots. Is the info not already in the ministry’s database? Why do we need more than name and I.D. so they can check on us digitally?

Anyhooo, we huddled under a small single-tent set-up to receive the morning sun directly through its only open side. Although insufficient seats had been provided, they were set close together and some were even joined together. None had been sanitised. Again, there was no attempt to separate the unvaccinated (there for a first dose) from others. Only one overworked security guard manned the waiting area.

We waited for two hours before being ushered inside 20 at a time (no physical distancing) for more paperwork and then more waiting (this time on sanitised spaced-out seating). Eventually, we were jabbed, observed, and sent on our way.

The entire trauma took three hours when it could’ve been done in one. The good news is that the staff was kind, compassionate, courteous, and as helpful as possible in the circumstances but working with a Dickensian system. Our booster cards still had to be stamped and our original cards rewritten. but I skipped that stage. I rarely travel. I’ll wait for the promised digital card.

A senior citizen living in Cobbla, Manchester, left home on Wednesday morning, travelled over 17km by public transport, and arrived at Mandeville Hospital before 6:00 a.m for her booster. Cobbla is fairly close to Spalding Health Centre, but no vaccinations were available there (according to Health Ministry’s website).

She was told they were prioritising first shots and would get to her when that was done. She waited for what seemed forever. They started giving boosters at 1.00 p.m. and she got hers at 5.00 p.m. WHY couldn’t it have been better managed? Is there a staff shortage? Or an inability to pay additional staff?

Fortunately for her, her employers sent her home for a year (mostly on full pay) from the start of the pandemic to protect her from taking public transport from Cobbla to Kingston (one taxi; two buses) daily for work; then brought her back when she was fully vaccinated (had to travel to Manchester High School for that); then gave last Wednesday off with full pay to get the booster. Not many in her position have the same opportunity nor can they afford to travel hither, thither, and yon to perform government’s responsibility.

HEALTH MINISTRY NEEDS A CRASH COURSE

Why hasn’t Government devised a method to vaccinate ordinary Jamaicans with less stress, inconvenience, and expense? Why are senior citizens, already undermined by co-morbidities, weakened immune systems, and less strength than most, subjected to possible heatstroke, interminable inconvenience, and additional health risk in order for Government to take the lazy, slip-shod route to improving public health?

This Health Ministry needs a crash course in the difference between marketing and communication. Marketing, we don’t need but have aplenty. Communication, lacking or inconsistent, is sorely needed.

Why wasn’t the online registration form updated long ago to provide for booster information? Why are boosters limited to one vaccine brand and only on odd days? Why isn’t this communicated during the online registration process? As Soames Forsyth used to grumble, “I don’t know. I can’t tell.”

Instead of spending gazillions on completely irrelevant Local Government Elections, Government could engage a logistics expert to run vaccination sites. Any average wedding planner could do a better job than is now the case. But you can be assured of one thing. This is yet another manifestation of Goodman’s Law. What’s that, you ask tremulous (proving you’re not a regular reader)? Goodman’s Law: Don’t ask if it’s about the money. It’s ALWAYS about the money!

Until the philosophy that makes Health Ministry centres superior and pop-up vaccination sites like pharmacies and private doctors inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is COVID!

It seems clear that this Health Ministry is incapable of bringing Jamaica to herd immunity by vaccination this millennium. So we’ll have to rely on the virus to punch itself out while we cover up and play rope a dope like Muhammad Ali did against equally monstrous George Foreman in Zaire decades ago.

As a social media bright spark (Twitter Handle Rushcam) opined:

“maybe more people are getting sick but not AS sick so maybe as COVID mutates it will eventually become the common cold? A so it go?”

Could it be we’ll one day thank anti-vaxxer Trojan Horses for sacrificing themselves, friends, and families in order to protect the rest of us by facilitating mutation into weaker (albeit more transmissible) variants?

Ya never know … .

Peace and Love!

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.