PAHO/WHO Representative DR Erica Wheeler

Fear, conspiracy theories, and religious beliefs are major factors contributing to the level of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy across the Caribbean.

This is according to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to T&T Dr Erica Wheeler and Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) officials.

Speaking at the weekly Tobago Health Update media briefing yesterday, the TRHA’s general manager for Primary Care Services Dr Roxanne Mitchell, explained.

“I could understand fear. I could understand persons not understanding the mechanisms by which the vaccines were manufactured.”

“We do have some conspiracy theories…There are people who think there are microchips and nano bugs present within the vaccine…that the vaccines have locators.”

Wheeler spoke about a survey conducted among healthcare workers in the Caribbean on vaccine hesitancy.

“Some of the things that are a little different…circulating in the community is around the lines of persons in religious communities not wanting to take the vaccine because they feel that this…is the mark of the beast,” Wheeler said.

The PAHO official said people have a right to their beliefs. She said: “There is no proof that the way the vaccines are produced, there isn’t anything harmful in them.”

She encouraged people to read more about the vaccines from PAHO, WHO, and Government websites and discuss their findings.

She said people have been taking the small pox vaccine and, “It was around before it was ever approved.”

Speaking as a Christian, she said God created excellent doctors and nurses.

She said another common vaccine hesitancy view is that natural immunity can be achieved from exposure to the virus and using natural herbs.

“Our body is a virgin to this virus, so we can’t rely on these things to protect us,” she said.

Health secretary Tracy Davidson- Celestine, who also spoke at the briefing, said Tobago would get the vaccines it needs for its population.

She urged residents to get the vaccines. She said from today to Sunday, residents in Tobago East can get their vaccines at the Roxborough Administrative Complex’s car park from 9 am to 3 pm.

TRHA officials said vaccinations continue at the Canaan, Roxborough, and Scarborough Health Centres and Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort from Monday to Friday.

At the Mason Hall Community Centre from 8 am to 4 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And Les Coteaux Health Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 am to 4 pm.

The authority said appointments are necessary for the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, administered at the Roxborough and Scarborough Health Centres from 8 am to 4 pm.

The TRHA said as of August 11, there are 553 active COVID cases in Tobago, 52 of which were recorded in the previous 24 hours.

In terms of vaccinations, 15,510 people received their first dose, 10,681 received two doses, the TRHA said.