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PAHO director expresses concern over Covid protests in A&B, ‘Wake up – the vaccines are safe,’ she implores

By Kadeem Joseph

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As anti-Covid-19 protocol and vaccine protests spread across the Caribbean, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is pleading with residents to not lose sight of the significant threat the Covid-19 pandemic poses.

During the most recent PAHO press conference, Observer media asked if the body was concerned about the recent vaccine related protests in Antigua and Barbuda and other territories in the Caribbean.

In response, Dr Carissa Etienne said she is “truly very concerned” about what is happening in the Caribbean.

She explained that the region has been one that has attained the highest coverage of routine vaccines, “but what we are seeing now is … persons totally relaxing on the public health measures and a high level of vaccine hesitancy”.

Dr Etienne pointed to several stark realities in the sub-region that would make handling a major outbreak in a territory like Antigua and Barbuda nightmarish in her impassioned appeal to her fellow Caribbean people.

“We have to be extremely careful. We have limited bed capacity and limited ICU capacity in our small islands. We also have limited expertise in terms of the number of health care workers, the number of respiratory therapists, the number of anesthetists,” she warned.

“Our health systems will become overwhelmed very quickly.”

On August 8, police unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets on scores of residents who had gathered at the VC Bird bust on Market Street after they had repeatedly warned them to disperse or face action.

In retaliation, members of the group threw projectiles back at the law enforcement officers and erected several barricades of debris, some of which were set alight.

Dr Etienne, who is originally from Dominica, also implored residents to seek information from sources that give truthful scientifically based evidence and information.

The medical practitioner is maintaining that the vaccines against Covid-19 work, particularly those that have received emergency use listing from the WHO, noting that the proof is seen in the fact that “in the cases that are now hospitalised, that’s in severe illness and deaths, more than 95 percent of those have not been vaccinated”.

The PAHO director also reminded that one dose of a two-dose vaccine does not offer sufficient protection, urging people not to skip the second dose.

 Dr Etienne stressed that the best vaccine for an individual remains the vaccine that is available, as many continue to wait for preferential jabs.

She warned that it is “foolhardy” to ignore the present public health protocols like social distancing, frequent hand washing and mask wearing in a situation where the capacity of health systems is limited.

“My appeal to you is to get up, wake up from that slumber, wake up from that dream because we know that the vaccines are safe,” she added.

The doctor conceded that there are side effects with the vaccines that remain “extremely rare” as she assured that health officials continue to monitor the occurrence of these adverse effects on the national, regional and global level.

“Immediately we take action on side effects so that we can prevent anymore,” she said. “Frankly, every medication that you take has side effects; you don’t question them. There are new medications that are coming out with new technology that people are taking and they do have side effects, but the important thing is that those side effects are monitored and reported and action is taken to address those.”

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