FILE - A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital, Nov. 5, 2021, in Chicago. The omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers, and experts lament that most of the youngsters are not vaccinated. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

What do vaccine-hesitant people in six Caribbean islands surveyed by the United National Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) have in common?

Most are young, unemployed and have a max education level of secondary school.

The survey findings implied that those educated to a higher level were more likely to be vaccinated.

T&T scored 4.4 of 10 in a Vaccine Hesitancy Index, tied with Grenada, with one, the least hesitant and 10, the most.

The survey showed that T&T had an unvaccinated population of 54 per cent, beaten only by Barbados with 49 per cent. It also showed that no one could persuade 48 per cent of respondents to change their minds.

The 48 per cent is a figure Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh is concerned about after listening to the launch of the COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Survey Report 2021 done by the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) for UNICEF and sponsored by the United States Agency International Development (USAID).

CADRES surveyed people in T&T, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines between October and November 2021.

Director of Cadres Peter Wickham said unvaccinated people were primarily ages 18 to 30. Wickham said they were presumably less concerned about the risk of being unvaccinated. They were also more likely to be unemployed, either voluntarily or otherwise.

The report states that the absence of the need or desire to enter an institutionalised environment may create a reluctance to vaccinate. Another influence of vaccine hesitancy was politics, as evidence around the region shows that unvaccinated people were more likely to oppose the government.

Respondents said they did not trust the vaccines because they believed researchers developed them too quickly or did not know the ingredients and worried about possible side effects. Some said it was their choice not to vaccinate.

“These views have not changed over time. Indeed, a significant portion is now even less inclined to take a vaccine, and this pattern is consistent across all the countries with the highest percentage in Trinidad & Tobago and the lowest in Grenada,” the report stated.

Another reason for not taking a vaccine was medical advice suggesting that people should not.

However, close to two-thirds of respondents did not consult a doctor before deciding against vaccination. Most vaccine-hesitant respondents said they got their information on social media and personal internet research.

“In Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago, respondents said they could be helped by the information on the numbers of people who got sick/died and on the different vaccines available. The preferred modes of communication for unvaccinated persons are television/cable and WhatsApp.”

While the use of personalities in vaccine campaigns helped relay information, it differed for the vaccine-hesitant in T&T and Barbados. Many found it unhelpful or distracting. Religious leaders, family and friends were not the key influencers in any country.

What could change the minds of unvaccinated people were more scientific or medical information, followed by a mandate on account of the need to travel, work or see loved ones die. However, some respondents reported that nothing could convince them, even if they got information on the side effects and vaccine efficacy.

Using the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, Deyalsingh said T&T already vaccinated the innovators, early adopters and early majority. He said the country was now going after the late majority.

He said the report would now feed into the Government’s Behaviour Change Management Programme. The programme is a partnership with the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Social Sciences to develop a Behaviour Change Modification Process.

—Kevon Felmine