(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, says the entity is taking steps to boost coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine uptake among healthcare workers in member countries, especially those on the front line in the fight against the pandemic.
Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing yesterday, she said this is being done against information that the entity has “heard informally” indicating that healthcare workers, especially in the Caribbean, are worried about the efficacy of vaccines, due to similar myths and concerns that have circulated in the general public.
“We continue to work with Ministries of Health and communication specialists to really understand these concerns about getting vaccinated and to work with healthcare communities and leaders to improve vaccine uptake, dispel those myths, and urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible and vaccines are available,” the Director added.
Etienne said PAHO regards regional front-line health workers as the “highest priority” group for vaccination.
This, she pointed out, “because they are at a higher risk of being infected with COVID-19”.
The director said there is also a risk that they can spread COVID-19 to their patients and families, “who are also at high risk of [COVID-19] complications or death”.
She noted that health workers have been working under intense and challenging conditions consequent on the pandemic for more than a year, adding that they put themselves “at really higher risk” to help others, as part of the COVID-19 response.
Etienne said health workers are “especially important” for regional immunisation campaigns and programmes, because they constitute the “most trusted source” of information on vaccinations.
“So, we really have to work with our healthcare workers to ensure that they fully understand all that there is [to know] about COVID-19 vaccines and that they are able to be [credible and trusted] sources of information,” she added.
Etienne also encouraged them to listen to and acknowledge other persons’ concerns about the vaccines, correct any misinformation, rumours or misperceptions that are circulating, and emphasise the safety of the vaccines and their benefits in preventing diseases.
The director pointed out, however, that for this engagement to be effective, healthcare workers “have to be convinced” and avail themselves of the information.
Etienne emphasised that the vaccines “will protect you against needlessly suffering or dying from COVID-19… and they are safe”.
Underscoring that safety “is always a top priority” for PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO), she said all vaccines undergo similar trial procedures to ensure their efficacy and effectiveness before approval for use.
Etienne also encouraged persons not to wait for their preferred vaccine, pointing out that “the best vaccine is the one that is available and offered to you”.