A survey into COVID-19 vaccination acceptance and reluctance around the Caribbean has indicated that concern over side-effects is one of the main reasons why people are not getting vaccinated.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency conducted the online survey, aimed at social media users in countries across the region, between 17 Feb. and 18 June this year. The results, released today, Friday, 27 Aug., took into account the responses from 2,302 individuals from six countries – Barbados, Curacao, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Of those who took part, 14% were healthcare workers.
Although Cayman was one of the jurisdictions invited to take part in the survey, the level of response from here, and several other countries, did not meet the minimum number of required participants to be included in the results.
Despite not being included in these results, the CARPHA survey report referred to a survey carried out last year among Health Services Authority workers in Cayman, which indicated that 48% of them were unwilling to take the vaccine.
Chief Nursing Officer Dr. Hazel Brown at the HSA told the Cayman Compass she was not aware where that statistic had come from, but said she could confirm that “at last count, 75% of HSA staff were vaccinated”.
CARPHA: 11% unwilling to be vaccinated
The CARPHA survey results showed that 74% of respondents had either already been vaccinated or were willing to be, 15% (358 people out of 2,302) were hesitant, and 11% said they would not take a vaccine.
More than half – 52.9% – of participants indicated that they had no concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, while 47.1% said they did have concerns. The most cited worry among the participants (38%), across all age groups, was the potential side effects of the vaccine.
Other concerns raised were a perception that the vaccine was developed too quickly (20.7%); that the respondents did not know enough about the vaccine (19%); and that they did not think it would protect them from getting COVID (16.1%).
Almost 10% of respondents said they did not trust the vaccine manufacturers, and 8.6% said they preferred to use local remedies or natural alternatives. Just over 4% said they thought they could get COVID-19 from the vaccine, and 2% said they did not think COVID was real.
Participants were asked from whom they received their trusted information regarding COVID-19, and were given a variety of options to choose from. They could choose as many of the options as they wanted. The majority responded that they received the information from scientists, doctors and health experts, as well as ministries of health and public health organisations.
Almost a quarter said they received their information about COVID-19 from websites, while one in 10 said they trusted the information they got from friends and acquaintances. Just over 5% said they received their most trusted information from their church, and 3.1% said they believed what they were told by their spiritual/natural healers.
Responses to the survey varied according to geographical location, age and education levels, CARPHA pointed out.
The survey findings also indicated that “having prior information about COVID-19 is associated with vaccine acceptance, especially among health care workers. On the other hand, the more knowledge about COVID-19 expressed by the participants, the less likely the concerns about COVID-19 vaccinations.”
A total of 312 respondents (14%) were healthcare workers. The survey found that a higher percentage of healthcare workers were vaccinated compared to non-healthcare workers (64.4% vs 49.2%). Of the number of healthcare workers that were not inoculated, 36.9% said they were undecided about getting a vaccine shot, and 22.5% said they would not get vaccinated.
Participants were also asked if they would vaccinate their children and elderly parents. The percentage of participants who reported that they would vaccinate their elderly parents was higher than those who said they would vaccinate their children (53% vs. 38%).
CARPHA said the objective of the survey was to get data on the attitudes of active social media users in the Caribbean towards immunisation with a COVID-19 vaccine, and to determine if geographical location, gender, age group, or education are associated with vaccine acceptance. It also aimed to identify trusted sources of information and existing information gaps on COVID-19 and related vaccines.
‘Misinformation, fake news and scare tactics’
CARPHA Executive Director Dr. Joy St. John said, “In terms of what needs to be done, these findings need to be disseminated. We need to fill the void that is being filled with misinformation, fake news and scare tactics.
“We need people to wake up and look around them; they don’t need to look very far. Some of our member states are struggling with numbers of cases that are causing the health system to buckle and sometimes collapse and there are increases in deaths.”
She added that more information had to be made available not just at regional level, but at community level with each country.
“I know that there are certain things that Caribbean people look for – they look for proof of safety, and as more and more people are vaccinated in the Caribbean, that will give some people a feeling of comfort.”
She said CARPHA was looking for funding to help support individual countries to spread the vaccination message to their people.
Asked about efforts across the region to reach herd immunity, in light of vaccine hesitancy, St. John said, with reports of the Delta variant being so easily transmissible, and affecting more younger people than earlier variants of the virus, many countries were upwardly revising their vaccination targets to 90% and above of the eligible population.
The Cayman Islands government is aiming to fully vaccinate 80% of its entire estimated 71,106 population by 14 Oct.
Like St. John, Cayman’s government also appealed to people to ensure they are informed about COVID-19 and vaccinations from reliable sources, and not from social media posts that spread misinformation.
In an impassioned plea, Premier Wayne Panton said in a press briefing on Wednesday, “Frankly, I am deeply concerned as to the potential unnecessary loss of life, because some in our community still refuse to take the vaccination, which remains one of the most effective tools we have to protect ourselves from the ill effects of … COVID-19.”
While he said that while he understood that some people cannot take the vaccine for medical or religious reasons, “for the rest, there is not really any excuse”.
He said he had heard myriad excuses from people who did not want to take the vaccine, including, “there are long-term effects, the vaccine contains computer chips, people have died, people have had to have organ transplants”.
He added, “All of these are myths and lies designed to scare you and carry out an anti-vaccination agenda. If any of that was true, the Food and Drug Administration would not have given the Pfizer vaccine full approval on Monday. That’s the safe and highly effective vaccine that the United Kingdom has provided us for free and that our Health Services Authority has been administering since January.”
Panton urged the residents of Cayman, “Stop listening to the false news, the propaganda of those who wish you ill will.”