Ministry points to danger of vaccine hesitancy among high-risk groups

The Ministry of Health and Wellness yesterday reminded Jamaicans in the high-risk age groups of the danger of vaccine hesitancy, as nine weeks into the national COVID-19 vaccination programme only a small percentage of them have taken the jab.

“There are signs of vaccine hesitancy among the vulnerable populations, with the 60-69 [age group] having just under 16 per cent take-up; 70-79 [age group], 22.6 per cent; and [people] over 80, just under 18 per cent take-up,” Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said at yesterday evening’s COVID Conversations media briefing.

“We are not prepared yet to say it’s purely about hesitancy because there is a need to ensure that there is equitable access by all the socio-economic groups across the population,” Tufton added.

He said the ministry would have to employ more targeted strategies to reach these individuals. “There is going to have to be a strategy to ensure that when we declare hesitancy, it is based on persons having the opportunity to, and the means to, but are not taking up that opportunity. Nevertheless, we still believe that we should have seen more. There is no doubt that hesitancy is there, and we are going to have to spend more time to assess,” he noted.

He stressed that people over 60 years of age must recognise that globally, they represent the majority of deaths from COVID-19.

“So it is important for them to take advantage of the opportunity to access the vaccine. Even with the challenges of sourcing supplies, the reality is that that opportunity exists now and has existed for some time,” Dr Tufton said.

He stressed that the decision to reduce the age eligibility to now offer the vaccine to Jamaicans aged 50 was not an indication that vaccination take-up has been satisfactory. “It is an indication that we have to make vaccines available to other members of the population, and also that we have some work to do. We have centres that are open that are available to administer first doses to the 60 and over, and many of them are not optimised. Not enough persons are coming in and we can’t just sit and wait; we also have to give others an opportunity,” he explained.

The health minister also cautioned against waiting for vaccines from specific manufacturers. “The fundamental principle to taking the COVID vaccine is to take the first one you get, because you never know when you may pick up the virus. So I don’t want anyone to be waiting around for the one-dose [vaccine] if you can get the AstraZeneca now,” he said.

He emphasised that there are enough vaccines available now to inoculate the 40,000 people who are due for their second dose this month. So far, 6,999 of those doses have been administered. Just eight per cent or 146,147 of the target population of 1.924 million have so far received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Director of family health services Dr Melody Ennis noted also that more females have taken the vaccine than males, despite the evidence that more males have poorer outcomes or die from the virus.

She said many people are in “wait and see” mode, and that there has been a slight fall-off in vaccine acceptance in 79 countries studied.

Local surveys show that there is a 30-50 per cent vaccine acceptance among Jamaicans, Dr Ennis said.

Globally, 1.37 billion people have received a COVID-19 vaccine, 333 million of them fully vaccinated. The aim is to have 70-80 per cent of populations vaccinated to move towards herd immunity.

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