The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy for many Jamaican families, but we count our blessings. My mum got her second shot of the COVID vaccine on June 13. As a senior citizen she is among the most vulnerable, and COVID-19 literally put much of her life on hold.
Seniors were told to stay home so I started doing her grocery shopping. Places of worship were closed and church, which is a big part of her life, was only accessible online. A former teacher, she still loves working with children as part of an NGO serving girls. That was disrupted.
It took time for her to accept restrictions on supermarket trips. It took less time to adapt to meetings and church on Zoom. At the start of the pandemic however it took her longer to get used to seeing everyone in masks. She told me it looked sad, pathetic. Seeing the whole world visibly vulnerable was depressing to a 72-year-old with an Energizer Bunny attitude.
Pandemic put her life and helping children on hold
Before she got the COVID-19 shot, we talked honestly about the vaccine. Her sister in the United States was the first family member to get the vaccine. In Jamaica, a sister who is a nurse was among those first to get it. Still there were fears, concerns, hesitation. So much was unknown. Eventually we decided it was wisest to take any protection science offered. A life of lockdown was not an option for my mother!
We listened religiously to the Ministry of Health & Wellness’ updates to hear when her age group became eligible for the jab. Once it was announced, I went online immediately to register her.
As she went to get her first shot, a memory of us getting polio vaccines as a family came to mind. I hunted down a 39-year-old photograph and newsletter and made a Facebook post which UNICEF reposted.
Memories of past vaccination efforts in Jamaica
“That’s me right there (with the pigtails and ribbons) and my family. It was 1982 and we were all getting vaccinated against polio as there was an outbreak in Jamaica in that year. My mum dressed us up and took the family to our parish capital, Mandeville, to make sure we were protected against this deadly virus. I remembered this recently when we returned the favour – registering her online for the COVID-19 vaccine and watching her drive off to get her first dose – again right in Mandeville. A lot has changed in 39 years, but one thing hasn’t: Vaccines are still protecting children and adults from serious diseases!”
The newsletter was published by the ALCAN bauxite company, which was my late father’s employer. Then, the private sector had worked alongside the public health system to ensure we were all safe – a partnership we see once again with COVID-19.
When my mum got her second shot I was proud to see CommCare in action – a digital health platform, supported by my workplace UNICEF Jamaica, which helps health workers register and track Jamaicans receiving the vaccine. The partnership to deliver this software also involved the Private Sector Vaccine Initiative (PSVI).
UNICEF platform helps accelerate national rollout
When I looked at comments under UNICEF’s Facebook post, I saw Jamaicans with similar memories from ’82. Some remembered the doctor who gave us our polio drops. Others in the capital Kingston recalled being transported by the state-run bus service to the National Arena for their vaccination.
As a family we count our blessings. Mum and her siblings are all vaccinated. There are however lots of seniors who don’t have access to technology to get registered. Others need help to get to vaccination sites. Some need sound information and reassurance from peers, younger relatives and the authorities about the vaccine. As a developing country, we worry whether we will have adequate supplies of the vaccine for our vulnerable populations.
The world is always changing, but collaboration at global, national and local levels, support within homes and communities, and responsive health systems remain essential to defeat this new threat to young and old in our human family.