Education to be major component of vaccine rollout

By Shelton Daniel

At least 85,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be available for use in Antigua and Barbuda within the next few weeks, according to Information Minister Melford Nicholas.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines have been obtained via donations of 5,000 and 40,000 doses from the governments of Dominica and India respectively, while the other 40,000 has been procured via the WHO/PAHO COVAX arrangement.

Nicholas said ahead of the arrival of the vaccine shipments and the commencement of their being administered in a specified priority order, there is to be an intense programme of education and other required preparations for the rollout.

“The Ministry of Health has already begun to put measures in place to deploy those vaccines, and they have indicated that they will be looking to utilize the polyclinics in Willikies and Villa, the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, and the Multi-Purpose Center.”

Nicholas said Cabinet had “implored” the health ministry to also “consider … going into the communities and utilizing the facilities of the primary schools … so we could [embark] on a national inoculation programme.”

He disclosed that government is negotiating to purchase a further 100,000 doses of the vaccine. “So over the next six weeks, we are expecting to have an accelerated programme where we are going to be able to inoculate upwards of eighty per cent of the population. This is going to require … the willingness of persons to come forward and be inoculated. We’re not going to make this mandatory.”

Turning to the subject of public education, Nicholas said Cabinet has “agreed to support the creation of a vaccine education and public relations team that will be managed under the Ministry of Health, but will be cross-functional in the sense that persons will come from the media and other areas within the country to support the efforts of the Ministry of Health in getting the information out.”

Nicholas added that the vaccine education and public relations team “would be supported by … medical practitioners” and the country could therefore “expect to see some accelerated public relations and different programmes that are being put in place to educate the public on the use of vaccines and the validity  of the vaccines program.”

Asked what would happen if sufficient numbers of people did not voluntarily present themselves for vaccination in order to attain the population percentage required for herd immunity, Nicholas said the education programme would be seeking to prevent that from happening.

“More than likely, we would have to increase the education and the public awareness … In all circumstances, we think that our people are bright, intelligent and sophisticated people, and they will always do what is in their best interests. And so, we think once the information is made available to them … they will overcome some of those fears, uncertainties and doubts … Much of this anti-vax nonsense that’s taking place in the media is not going to serve the general interests of the population, and I think eventually there are persons who are going to come to the determination that it is in [their] best interests to take the vaccine.”

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