One of the Caribbean’s leading epidemiologist does not believe COVID-19 vaccinations should be made mandatory but has strongly encouraged everyone in the region to be immunised as early as possible.
Professor Peter Figueroa, Chair of PAHO’s regional immunization Techical Advisory Group said it is only through mass vaccination that COVID-19 could be controlled.
But he said people should be allowed to take the vaccine when they are comfortable.
Several countries in the Caribbean have already begun the rollout of a vaccination programme including the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat and more recently, Barbados.
They are all using the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
Professor Figueroa, professor of Public Health, Epidemiology and HIV/AIDS at the University of the West Indies at Mona made the comments in a virtual forum hosted by UWI’s COVID-19 Task Force.
He has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a leader in health for his substantial contribution to public health in Jamaica, the Caribbean, the Americas and the world.
He said: “No, I don’t see the need for mandatory vaccination here at all. It is a new vaccine and we understand that some people are going to be concerned. Some people are always willing, they access the evidence and they are willing to go forward. I’m hoping that the majority of health workers fall into that group.
“Let those who are comfortable going forward first take the vaccine. As people hear their friends, people they know and they see them get the vaccine and they see that everything is fine they will start coming forward as well. I think we will be ok. There is no need to mandate this vaccine in my view.”
Professor Figueroa said it would bode well for the region if it was able to get a “substantial amount” of its population vaccinated by year-end.
He told the forum: “The rollout of the vaccine so far in the UK, the US, Israel, is showing such encouraging results that I am confident that once we begin to roll out the vaccine then we will have much less disease but I think we are still going to have COVID. If we can convince over 80 per cent of the population to take the vaccine then I think we can control the virus sufficiently that we could get back to normal activity.”
But across the region, the Rastafarian community has signalled its intention to reject the vaccination.
Professor Figueroa said while he would also advise Rastas to take the vaccination, he acknowledged that living a healthy lifestyle would help in the fight against COVID-19.
He said: “We know that the Rastas prefer to go ital or natural so this is important. I think that if you eat right, you exercise, you avoid excess alcohol or substance abuse, your immune system under normal circumstances is going to be fine.
When you eat foods you get a whole variety of chemicals, proteins, you get vitamins. The vaccine you could say just synthesizes food that helps your body’s immunity to protect itself against a specific disease.”
Pro Vice-Chancellor and Chairman of the UWI Task Force Professor Clive Landis, told the forum he did not expect COVID-19 would be eradicated.
He said he believed booster shots would have to be taken annually to have full protection against mutations of the respiratory illness.
Headline photo caption: Professor Peter Figueroa