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By Orville Williams

With the drastic reduction in the number of residents coming forward for Covid-19 vaccinations within the last few weeks, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging Antiguans and Barbudans to step up and play their role in getting the country to a state of normalcy.

In a recent webinar, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne was asked by Observer what could be done to arrest the apparent hesitancy from the Antiguan population to get vaccinated. Her response was that residents should look at what is happening in countries where vaccination figures are high and see that getting “back to normal” depends on the people going out and getting the vaccine.

“I think if we want a good example, let us look at what has happened in Israel. [They] recently reported that they had arrived at herd immunity and on that basis, because of the coverage of Covid-19 vaccines.

“As a consequence, they’ve opened up all their schools, they’ve reopened their economy, they’ve reduced their mask-wearing [and] they are lowering the social distancing. So, it works, but it relies on each of us making that commitment to get vaccinated.

“The risk from a Covid-19 [infection] is far higher than the risk of side effects from vaccines. So please, I am appealing to all, let’s take the vaccines. It is each of our responsibility, for ourselves, for our families [and] for our country. Our countries cannot restart their economies successfully until we stop this pandemic, so do your part,” Dr Etienne urged.

She also sought to calms the fears surrounding vaccine side effects, explaining that the health sector across the region is adequately equipped to assess and deal with any serious post-vaccination events. 

“This region has, for decades…had strong surveillance mechanisms and well-defined procedures for post-vaccination side [effects], so the surveillance system has been in place and it has worked – what we have done is beefed it up in regard to Covid-19 vaccines.

“We have not had any reports of severe side effects from vaccines in this region, but I assure you, if we did, we would be on top of it.

“[The approved] vaccines are safe, they are effective [and] what is more is that vaccines will ultimately be the way out of this pandemic. We rely on all persons cooperating to ensure that we can reach this goal”, she added. Earlier this week, health officials acknowledged that the fall-off in vaccinations had coincided with a similar fall-off in vaccine education. The government expressed similar sentiments and both sides have agreed that a return to proper vaccine education could re-energise the public vaccination programme.