FREE ACCESS: More Post-Vaccination Deaths in Jamaica Unreported, Raising Questions About Safety Surveillance and Transparency
Because of the public-health implications of this post, 18º North has decided to make it free. This story and the others that will follow are about how the collection and reporting of data about adverse events following vaccination are failing at multiple levels in Jamaica - be it because of actions by the government, well-intentioned healthcare providers or attitudes and actions by us, the members of the public.
It’s information you won't read anywhere else.
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Among persons that have received the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Jamaica, at least eight have died, according to a count by 18º North. The count covers merely those who have died within a few weeks after vaccination, and not necessarily because of it.
The parish health departments that administered the vaccines in some of the cases said they didn’t know about the deaths because they weren’t reported, be it by healthcare providers, relatives or members of the wider public.
This lack of knowledge brings into focus just how effectively the central ministry is able to conduct safety surveillance post-vaccination, as recommended by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Even when the Ministry of Health & Wellness has known about some of the deaths, the official count communicated to the public has remained at one.
Deaths #1 to #4
18º North began its count after the deaths of two high-profile men who had taken the vaccine and who had also contracted Covid-19. One, a Portland councilor with the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, Derron Wood, believed to be in his 60s, died on March 18 in hospital, reportedly within a few days after receiving his first dose. His family declined to speak with 18º North, but his friend and driver William Black said he had pre-existing conditions and didn’t believe the vaccine played a role in his death.
The second was a well-known veteran media practitioner and news presenter Michael Sharpe, 65, who had heart problems and died on April 20 in hospital in St. Andrew, about five weeks after being vaccinated, according to the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, who was authorized by the family to speak about his case in an interview with The Gleaner. She had said then, “This is not as a result of the vaccine.” It wasn’t clear if she was referring to his cause of death or to speculation of him contracting Covid-19 from the vaccine.
Leslie Teape, 82, who had underlying conditions, and his wife Anne Chin-Teape, 74, who didn’t have any co-morbidities, were also reported in the media to have died from Covid-19 within an hour of each other in hospital in St. Andrew, about two weeks after getting their first shot. 18º North was able to retrieve this information from their son, Leslie Jr., who also shared their death certificates that listed their cause of death. He also shared their vaccination cards.
Despite the already-determined cause of death, he believes that the vaccination exacerbated their condition, which they perhaps didn’t know about when they took the shot. The World Health Organization (WHO) says persons should wait to get vaccinated if they are currently sick with Covid-19.
Deaths #5 and #6 in St. James
18º North started to become aware that there were more deaths while trying to make contact with an elderly female resident of a nursing home in Montego Bay, St. James, who was said to have taken the vaccine and experienced serious illness. However, upon requesting contact information on April 23, we were told that the woman had already died at hospital.
Through our contact, we learned that the family was not interested in speaking with 18º North. However, the owner of the nursing home, Prestige Adult Care, confirmed the death we described. Without naming her, the owner Claudette Jenkins revealed that the woman had been feeling unwell on the day when a nurse from the St. James Health Department visited the home on April 6 and administered the vaccine to that resident and others. She relayed that, though she was not personally there at the time and had to rely on information from her chief nurse, in the period that followed, it was a mixed experience for her residents.
“Patients that didn’t take it passed. Patient that took it passed. So I don’t know if it’s the vaccine,” Ms. Jenkins, who is a practical nurse, conveyed. “I can’t tell.”
She revealed that another resident of the home also died within days of being vaccinated but that that woman, who was 99 and had an ulcer that was not infected, was not eating all her meals prior to immunization. She said a third resident also passed around the same time, but she had not taken the vaccine. Ms. Jenkins explained that the quick succession of deaths is not unusual because sometimes there are two or three persons that die within a short period of each other at the home, and at other times, there are stretches of several months without any deaths.
To verify the two deaths after vaccination from Prestige, 18º North visited the St. James Health Department on May 8, but Dr. Tanique Bailey Small, Acting Medical Officer of Health, who has primary oversight of the vaccination program for the parish, did not know about them.
“I’m not aware,” Dr. Bailey Small said. “We’d have to do our necessary investigations.”
At first, she said the adverse events she knew about in her parish were mostly mild - soreness at the injection site, fever and flu-like symptoms.
When pressed, she acknowledged knowing of one death - an elderly male in the parish, who died around early April, a few days after being vaccinated. She said she wasn’t fully sure about the date of his death, and there was an ongoing investigation.
Dr. Delroy Fray, Clinical Coordinator for the Western Regional Health Authority, which oversees four parishes, including St. James, was also not aware of the deaths from Prestige until he made a call to the nursing home and Ms. Jenkins confirmed them to him. He made clear that at Cornwall Regional Hospital, the parish’s main public hospital where 18º North found him on May 10, that there’s a protocol if someone falls ill after vaccination.
“You treat adverse reactions and that is reported back to the public health people who then report it to the central office,” he said.
He revealed that at Cornwall, he was only aware of one death allegedly after vaccination two to three weeks earlier - a female “70-plus” who had had co-morbidities, was Covid-positive and subsequently died “from other related medical issues.” He would not give her name because of patient confidentiality. Another doctor more knowledgeable about her case confirmed that she had had the Covid-19 vaccine a few days before presenting at Cornwall and testing positive with the disease. He said he didn’t consider her death to be an adverse event from the vaccine, nor would he say how long after being admitted did she die.
This woman’s death and that of the elderly gentleman are counted as five and six in the 18º North tally. 18º North did not add the two deaths at Prestige because no agent of the state or family member ever confirmed that they were vaccinated. A family member later located by 18º North said they didn’t want to be part of any propaganda story.
When 18º North checked in with Dr. Bailey Small a few weeks later, she confirmed that her team at the St. James Health Department had vaccinated persons at Prestige nursing home on April 6, as Ms. Jenkins had said.
When asked whether the public nurse did in fact administer a vaccine to the woman who was unwell, she said, “Based on our investigation, protocol would have been followed.”
She said the protocol would have involved a public nurse and a doctor visiting the nursing home and doing their assessments, and if any resident was unwell, vaccination would have been delayed. As to whether that meant the woman was or was not vaccinated, she kept going around in circles and wouldn’t give a straight answer.
She added that the two Prestige deaths were missed by her department “because it was not reported” at that time, and that any deaths or adverse events after vaccine would have had to have been reported into the health department rather than the health department checking in with the nursing home for those reports.
Ms. Jenkins did not return a WhatsApp message about whether her nursing home had reported any problems or concerns to the health department. She also stopped taking 18º North’s calls.
A response to an Access To Information request showed a report of two of the three Prestige deaths that occurred at the home on April 8 and 9 was made to the health department on May 28. Jamaican law requires nursing homes to report any deaths of patients that occur at the facility within 24 hours.
Deaths # 7 and # 8 in Manchester
Casting a wider net to other parishes, 18º North heard of a case of a 90-year-old female in Mandeville, Manchester, Lucinda Smith, who was overweight, had hypertension, high cholesterol and joint pains and used a wheelchair.
She had taken the vaccine on April 8 and was feeling mostly okay and even expressed that the pain in her shoulder was gone. But according to her caregiver of five years, Lorna Sutherland, who was authorized by the family to speak to 18º North, on some of the days that followed, she complained about weakness and experienced loss of appetite.
On the morning of April 16, Ms. Smith woke up feeling excessively weak, Ms. Sutherland recalled, so she called the family members who came by and called the doctor around 9 or 10 a.m. because Ms. Smith was too weak to travel to the hospital. By the time the doctor arrived at the residence around 1:30 p.m., Ms. Smith had already stopped breathing, and it was only time to pronounce her dead.
Ms. Sutherland said she doesn’t know whether the vaccine caused her death because of her client’s pre-existing conditions. But Ms. Smith’s niece, Jennifer (last name withheld at her request), who is a retired nurse in the U.S. and flew to Jamaica for the funeral, believes the vaccine played a role in her death.
“Come on! Eight days….It’s pretty obvious,” Jennifer said.
However, when 18º North contacted the doctor, Robert Edwards, who received permission from the family to discuss her case, he determined her death was from a stroke and her pre-existing conditions, not the vaccine.
“There was no evidence to suggest a link to the Covid vaccine,” he emailed. He added that an autopsy was declined by the family members.
During a conversation with Dr. Edwards, he revealed that his mother, too, had passed recently - a stroke as well, which he said is common among the elderly. When asked whether she had had the vaccine, he hesitated then said yes, three weeks before her death.
Dr. Edwards said he did not report either death to the health department because in his medical opinion the vaccine was not a direct cause.
When 18º North called back to Dr. Edwards to get the name of his mother, he declined to name her and said to leave her out of this. We called back on another occasion and let him know that because of the nature of the story, we couldn’t.
The Manchester Health Department’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nadine Williams was not aware of the deaths when contacted, but said she had a record of Ms. Smith’s vaccination since she was given a name.
The deaths of Ms. Smith and Dr. Edwards’ mom would bring the 18º North count to eight. All eight were from the 60-and-over age group that was prioritized for vaccination.
The Jamaican Health Ministry’s Response
When asked specifically about the deaths discovered by 18º North and reported elsewhere, Dr. Melody Ennis, who oversees the vaccination program for the entire island, would only say she had a record of “some of them”, including the four reported in the media. However, she added that she wouldn’t give additional details yet because the deaths are under investigation.
“You’ve just got to be patient,” she said.
She explained that though she doesn’t know if it’s required by law in Jamaica, all doctors are encouraged to file reports of all adverse events post-vaccine, regardless of known cause, since the “causality assessment is done at the national level.”
She said causality is determined by first ruling out pre-existing conditions and the likelihood that they would have played a role in a death. If the death can’t be explained because of any possible link to those, then they start to investigate whether it was the vaccine.
To be continued…
NEXT: Whether Jamaica is meeting the international standard for tracking and reporting on adverse events post-vaccination.
Disclaimer: Michael Sharpe was this reporter’s boss from 20 years ago.
*Story updated from its original version.
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