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August 14, 2021

PAHO Director appeals to Caribbean people to get vaccinated and observe protective measures

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Photo-credit: Photo © PAHO/WHO

Posted: Saturday, August 14, 2021. 4:58 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Dominica-born Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, has added to her own plea to the many health experts encouraging vaccination against COVID-19 and adherence to public health measures.

At a press briefing on Wednesday she said, “I know the Caribbean people like to be close, and we like fetes, and we like to congregate, but please avoid congregation. Observe respiratory etiquette and wash your hands frequently.”

She noted that small islands in the Caribbean have limited bed capacity in intensive care units, along with limited numbers of specialized doctors. “Our health systems will become overwhelmed very quickly,” she said.

In the English-speaking Caribbean, more than 1,315,197 COVID-19 cases and more than 16,136 deaths have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Cases are currently rising in Jamaica, Martinique, the Bahamas, and Dominica.

In contrast, to date, over 1.1 million people in the Caribbean, comprising about 15 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated, according to PAHO figures. This does not include Haiti, which recently began its vaccination effort.

“What we are seeing now is persons totally relaxing on the public health measures and a high level of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Etienne said. “Even when vaccines are available, persons are not coming forward. We are seeing vaccine hesitancy in healthcare workers.”

“I don’t know the sources of the information that is triggering this level of vaccine hesitancy. I can tell you that they are not scientifically proven, and I want to appeal to you to listen to the sources where you have truthful, scientifically based information and evidence,” she added.

She reassured Caribbean citizens that the vaccines work, particularly those that received emergency use listing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO). The proof, she said, “is that of the people that are now hospitalized, in severe illness and death, more than 95 percent of those have not been vaccinated.”

“To be protected, you need to receive the full regimen,” she continued. “If it is two doses, you need to receive the full doses. One dose does not protect you. And please, the best vaccine for anyone is the one available to you. So, please make use of available vaccines.”

She also said not getting a COVID-19 vaccine is “foolhardy” because the vaccines are safe and protect against severe illness and death.

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