COVID-19 enforcement officers are expected to be on the streets on Monday as their in-house training exercise is expected to be completed today.
Deputy Police Commissioner Milton Desir said they would be accompanied by police officers while in the field.
This comes at a time when COVID-19 cases keep on rising, now at 274 as of yesterday, despite an increase in recoveries and a reduction in active cases to date (see story on front page).
Meanwhile on the vaccine front, the Ministry of Health has established a COVID-19 vaccination implementation team with support from the PAN American Health Organization (PAHO).
That team is working on the implementation, the roll out, the communications and education aspect of the vaccine, an endeavour expected to kick off in January.
“There are a number of aspects which are not completely defined and require policy decision, but just to let you know that we’re awaiting the approval by WHO (World Health Organisation) of the vaccines that are already being used,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George said.
According to the CMO, more information regarding the vaccine will be shared with the public as time goes by.
“There are a number of recommendations that’s going to go to Cabinet in terms of the implementation, for example the cost if any. In terms of the first persons to get it we are looking at our high risk and our front line workers and we are looking at the policy for dissemination given that it is a new vaccine. We will ensure that the public gets all of the necessary information on it,” the CMO said.
She said a huge stakeholders meeting with the health related sector is being planned for next week to ensure as much stakeholders involvement in the vaccine’s implementation.
“As soon as some of those decisions are final we will be having a press briefing to give you that information so that the public is well informed,” Dr. Belmar-George told reporters.
Regarding the skepticism from several Saint Lucians about the vaccine Dr. Belmar-George said a certain level of resistance to the vaccine is anticipated.
“From the initial data and information that we’ve been able to capture, we anticipate a level of resistance from our population. One of the surveys that was done by John Hopkins looking at the acceptability of the potential COVID-19 vaccine. The survey was conducted in 67 countries, 16 of them in our region and the variation was quite great. For example, in places like Brazil and Ecuador the acceptability was as high as 85 and 80%. Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were included. For Trinidad the acceptance was as low as 45% and for Jamaica 35%. We think Saint Lucia would be close to that especially given that there is already a level of skepticism for vaccines and this is a relatively new vaccine that is being proposed,” the CMO said.
Dr. George said the public needs a lot of evidence based accurate information to make informed decisions about the vaccine, noting that relevant, accurate, scientific information is extremely important before the vaccine’s implementation.
“We anticipate a level of resistance from what the initial data is showing so we are definitely going to ensure that accurate information is coming out to the public on that…,” she said.
“We’re also monitoring closely the countries that have started implementation to also see what those reactions may be when we are ready to roll out in country,” she added.
Tourism Minister and Chairman of the National Emergency Management Advisory Committee (NEMAC) Dominic Fedee said his team is working with the private sector to ensure that messages encouraging individuals to stay at home and to only go out when necessary and to follow the protocols that have been instituted are followed.
“We have seen that this is also going to help. The business houses, the commercial places have done a significant job in helping to enforce the protocols. There are a few tweaks here and there which we have discussed this morning that I think we will see refinement in the coming days but I believe that when you put all of this together we should have a more improved environment,” he said.
He added, “I don’t think that we can completely enforce the protocols from an enforcement point but what we can certainly do is encourage the public to cooperate with the authorities and I think what is required now is for each of us to take responsibility and the more responsibility that we take as individual citizens I believe we will have a better success rate of keeping each other safe.”
With regards to the wearing of a face shield compared to the wearing of a mask CMO George said that from a safety point of view and to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 it’s best to use a mask in public places, noting that the face shield provides limited coverage, hence the recommendation should be the use of a mask as much as possible when in public places.