The right vaccine approach

Dr Gabrielle Hosein -
Dr Gabrielle Hosein -


I UNDERSTAND parents’ vaccine hesitance. Part of me would also opt for mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren so that tens of thousands who have been without consistent schooling for a year and a half can continue to learn.

All the data on the digital divide suggests that many of those children will face huge challenges catching up and even experience future income loss. We need to think of children’s collective best interest.

Vaccination isn’t simply a matter of individual choice, for higher viral loads of covid19 are carried by those unvaccinated, recirculating the virus and giving it greater chance to mutate, making health risks a continuing reason for school closures and exclusion of the poorest of children from education.

That said, I can appreciate parents’ concern and I think it’s important for us to do so. Many parents feel that the vaccines have not been sufficiently tested for side effects or that their child may be the one who reacts badly. Relatively few children have been seriously affected and the majority of infected people survive covid19, seemingly without effect and sometimes even without symptoms.

There’s also such a huge amount of misinformation better marketed than science, sceptical parents are caught between contradictory approaches to protecting their little ones. They are not sure which is worse; the virus or the vaccine. There’s a powerful mix of love and fear at play.

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) recently released a regional study on Covid19 Vaccine Acceptance. The data was collected online between February and June and 2,302 people participated, including 384 from Trinidad and Tobago. Two-thirds of respondents were women, two-thirds were from urban areas, the majority were between 30 and 60 years old, and the majority had a secondary school education or higher.

Only 38 per cent of parents surveyed said they would vaccinate their children, with 30 per cent of them responding “no” or “maybe.” Half of the sample had concerns about the vaccine or believed that they did not know enough or whether the vaccine was developed too quickly. The majority of those who were vaccine hesitant were most concerned about side effects.

Nearly 60 per cent felt extremely knowledgeable about how to protect themselves from the virus. By contrast, just over ten per cent felt they understood the development of the vaccine, possibly how vaccines work overall and perhaps even the differences among the current vaccine brands.

Knowing this, it is clear that ordering mandatory vaccination of children or even threatening and bullying parents is not the way to address their real fears. What is needed is much better communication which acknowledges that parents’ concerns about side effects are both rational and emotional. This means an improved approach which combines science with humanity. Not just what is said, but the sense of empathy, trust and connection that is built into how it is conveyed.

The best example of this is Mia Mottley’s August 24 speech where the Barbados PM declared her Cabinet’s position against mandatory vaccines. More importantly, she emphasised that while her responsibility was to keep Barbadians safe, it was also to keep them united.

“Covid must not be allowed to divide us as a people, as a nation” were her words as she committed to communicating in ways which understood her people, rather than set them apart as hard-headed or blameworthy fools.

“More often than not, Bajans operate on the basis first of respect, you got to see me, you got to hear me, you got to talk to me. And to that extent, that is what we feel that we need to do as a nation…we have to do better by our people…before we start talking about legal opinion and the legislative framework.

“Those things are not us…first thing next week is for me to go to understand those who may still be ambivalent…whether we support vaccines or we don’t support vaccines must not be allowed to divide us…to that extent we now have to work together as a people.

“Persons who are not wanting vaccines because they little ambivalent, we going to come and talk to you, persons who may have concerns or medical questions, we going to try to find the answers for you, persons who are adamant they don’t want it, we respect you…we invariably never have a 100 per cent of one thing or another, but we have learned how to live together and how to carry each other.”

This is the leadership and approach we urgently need. I’m certain every concerned parent would agree.

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 432


"The right vaccine approach"

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