President of the Transport Operator Development Sustainable Service (TODSS), Egerton Newman, has set the ambitious target of getting at least 65 per cent of the islands estimated 200,000 transport operators – owners, drivers, conductors, backup men and washers – fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by the end of December.
The vaccination campaign, which is projected to be officially launched by next week Thursday at the Half-Way Transport Centre, will be carried out from at least 11 major sites across the island.
Speaking at Wednesday’s press launch of the event at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre conference room, Newman sought to dispel the overriding perception people have of the public transportation sector.
“Many people think that all we do is just carry people to and from – throw them inna the vehicle, pack it up and we make a money and that’s it. We are much more than that and this is just another part of our work in the public transport sector,” he insisted.
With 35,000 transport operators, that is drivers working for 32,000 owners, and with an estimated 8,000 bus and taxi men utilising the Half-Way Transportation Centre each day, Newman believes it is a good place to start. He admits that vaccine hesitancy is very high among his membership and every effort must be made to steer them in the right direction.
“They are on the fence and could jump on any side. We want them to jump on the ride side and we must encourage them to do so,” he said. The campaign will seek to influence these men and women to make the right choice through a number of public awareness messages carried on mainstream media, a number of social media platforms and will even include town criers.
“Of the transport operators who move around the centre each day, if we could get even 500 vaccinated one day, that would be a great move,” he said.
PLAYS A CRITICAL ROLE
The TODSS president noted that given the critical role public transportation plays in everyday life, its importance cannot be overemphasised. He cited the example of the home and school being sterile bubbles and students and teachers moving from one to the other point and having to interact with the feared loader men.
“Those are the persons I am afraid of most because they take the passenger bag, which goes into one vehicle and the person gone into another vehicle, and that is serious to us,” Newman pointed out. It is at this point of interaction that the passenger is most likely to be vulnerable and so these participants in the public transportation cycle must also be fully vaccinated, in order for the country to achieve herd immunity.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Watson of the Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch (PSTEB) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force noted that with its members also exposed to the COVID-19 virus during their everyday duties, the cops have a vested interest in ensuring the campaign’s success.
“We have to ensure that there is a positive outcome of this programme. Once we are called upon, we will present ourselves to ensure that the environment is safe for others to do what they have to do by maintaining a safe space and ensuring that security is always there.”
He, however, warned that some drivers were guilty of putting the health of others at risk, paying scant regard to COVID-19 protocols. Hence the urgent need for the public awareness that the TODSS will be seeking to achieve.
“I don’t think that a number of the drivers even understand what they are exposed to because from time to time you speak to them and what they are thinking about is the next dollar. If you carry out a survey, you find that is small amount of them that actually keep on that mask.”
He also explained the reason that some police personnel often opt not to act against transgressors.
“Though we can arrest and prosecute, you still have to keep warning them (drivers) because every time you take action against them, there are some commuters who are going to be left stranded, and that is why at times they tend to get away with a warning. However, anything that will make the public space safer for the general public and police officers, PSTEB will be part of it.”
The campaign also has the full backing of the Union of Clerical and Supervisory Employees, whose president, Vincent Morrison, was the guest speaker.