Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday expressed deep concern that Jamaicans from rural and inner-city communities have been less inclined to take the COVID-19 vaccine and repeated an appeal for citizens to take the jab for their personal safety.
“I’m treading carefully on the subject because vaccine politics is a real issue, and the social divide in the country is easily stirred up. But it is something that we have to talk about. Why is it that higher income people are more willing to take the vaccine? It is usually because of information. They do more research, they have more access to information and many of them speak to their doctors directly. And so, they get advice,” Holness said during a virtual vaccine town hall meeting.
“Persons who live in inner-city areas or in rural areas do not always have the information and don’t always have first-hand access to their doctors and practitioners to give them the advice,” he added.
This disparity, Holness said, could pose a danger to Jamaica because while those citizens are shielded from the necessary facts, they are exposed to misinformation.
“They would also get access to perverse information, saying don’t take this vaccine or don’t do this. And that kind of information is being circulated widely in our country. People who are opinion leaders, people who are influential in various areas, whether it is church or music, or entertainment, they are sometimes messengers of perverse information.”
Those citizens are then left without reason to choose personal safety and public good, Holness added.
“What we’re seeing happening for people who want the vaccine, is that they are people who have more knowledge about the vaccine,” he contended. Those without knowledge, he added, “don’t have a context within which to understand why they should take the vaccine. So, one of the reasons we’re having this conversation is to reach out to persons who are in our rural communities, inner-city communities. You need to get vaccinated. We want to see you turn up at the vaccination centres according to the published priority lists.”
There have also been a lot of conspiracy theories floating online, one of which is that the vaccine has a negative effect on sperm count. Chair of the Caribbean Immunisation Technical Advisory Group, Professor Peter Figueroa, rubbished that claim.
“I doubt it very much. I don’t think that has been tested. But I can reassure, don’t worry about that,” he said, noting that there also haven’t been any reported fertility problem among vaccinated women.
“Thousands of women have already gotten the vaccine, and we’re seeing no ill effects at all. Some women who got the vaccine are now pregnant and they are being followed,” Professor Figueroa said.
Professor of public health and ageing at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Denise Eldemire-Shearer, noted the COVID-related deaths among senior citizens and urged Jamaicans to immerse themselves in the facts and take the vaccine.
“The death rate among older people is high. Seventy-one per cent of deaths are in the over 60 population. This has led to fear. Older people are listening to the stay-at-home order. They are afraid of getting COVID. So, vaccination for the population is a final step. We need to ensure that its senior [citizens] from every area of Jamaica that come out to be vaccinated,” she said.
“We will never get rid of masks and sanitisation for a long time,” she said, while pointing to a report released earlier this week that the novel coronavirus could be seasonal.
Meanwhile, Dr Melody Ennis, director of family services at the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), said the younger population, too, has been affected. The dissimilarity, though, lies within their reaction to the virus.
“Young persons are asymptomatic for the most part. They don’t show any signs and symptoms. They don’t even think that anything is wrong, and therefore, they go about their normal business,” Dr Ennis pointed out.
She also said that because of the success of previous vaccination programmes against diseases like polio and measles, the younger generation isn’t aware of the efficacy of vaccines.
“That generation is unfamiliar and therefore, the urgency to take a vaccine is certainly not there. They simply don’t know. It’s for all young persons, including medical professionals, nursing professionals, health care providers at this time,” added Ennis.
Meanwhile, Holness said the knowledge disparity about vaccines can result in an inequitable distribution, therefore the Government has a duty to get everyone on board.
“People who are in inner-city communities, people who don’t have access, we have to reach out to you and get to you directly to encourage you to take the vaccine. Because during this period of short supply, what will happen is that a certain section of the society will get vaccinated and they will be able to go back and move around without having that high risk of infection, while people who are poorer may very well still maintain a high risk of infection, and that’s not good for our society,” the prime minister said.
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