Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharon Belmar-George believes that vaccination levels can increase significantly in the future, but for now the hesitancy of Saint Lucians to vaccinate is posing a problem in achieving herd immunity.
“We continue to get vaccine hesitancy among various groups. Some persons have indicated that they would prefer to get the Cuban vaccine, for example (and) we have very good relations with the Cuban government, so as soon as it’s gotten its approval through WHO this is one of the vaccines that we are going to make available,” she said at a recent press conference.
Referring to the Cuban vaccine the CMO said that clinical trials have been positive so far. She also said the Rastafarian community has shown an interest in one of Cuba’s vaccines.
“We had a very important consultation with the Rastafarian community,” Belmar-George said, adding that the community indicated the Cuban vaccine is one of the vaccines they have greater trust in.
“We really want to have it available once the WHO approval comes in,” she noted.
Regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, the CMO said that misinformation contributed to hesitancy in its acceptance by Saint Lucians. However Belmar-George said that the Ministry of Health “sees an increase in the uptick” when persons are educated about the vaccine.
“One of the things which we increased in the community is the (ground) work. We take the opportunity to listen to the concerns of the population,” she said.
The Chief Medical Officer spoke of having to focus on many little groups within the communities stating that it’s more time consuming compared to what the Ministry of Health has been doing traditionally.
She said the Ministry of Health has a greater challenge with young people since many of them do not want to be inoculated.
“We get that hesitancy mostly among the younger age group where persons believe we’re strong, we’re doing okay, we don’t need it, but we are seeing supposedly strong and healthy persons also being impacted by COVID- 19, so this is one of the groups that we have a lot of work to do (on),” Belmar-George said.
According to the CMO, the Ministry of Health is working on acquiring the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines so that persons can have more options to choose from, which may increase vaccination levels significantly in the future.
Over 31,000 individuals have received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Saint Lucia with over 22,000 receiving the second jab.
A number of countries have banned the AstraZeneca vaccine after various reports said it caused blood clots. Local health officials believe these reports have led to vaccine hesitancy, however, Assistant Principal Nursing Officer in the Ministry of Health, Tecla Jn Baptiste said that it is highly unlikely that persons will experience such adverse reactions if they take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“It is important to consider that clotting problems are a common complication of COVID-19 infection and it is also associated with other prevalent health conditions including obesity. The Ministry of Health assures the citizenry that the safety of each individual is of paramount importance.
“There is in place a vaccine monitoring system which allows for the keeping of a record of any adverse effect and a timely intervention if this occurs. Given this monitoring system, it is important that each individual who has been vaccinated and experienced a response beyond the expected side effects contact their health care provider to report their experience. Once notified an investigation will ensue to determine causality,” she said.