Lack of proper communication, education driving vaccine hesitancy- Dr. Carpen

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By Vishani Ragobeer

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It has been reported that there are enough vaccines in Guyana to vaccinate all children older than 12 years old and to administer at least one dose to every adult. But, a lack of proper communication and education is believed to be the reason why more people are not coming forward to get these vaccines.

This is the view of Dr. Mahendra Carpen, the Head of Medical Services and Cardiology at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), who spoke with the News Room recently.

When asked if the deaths of fully vaccinated people may be contributing to vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Carpen disagreed. What he believes is that “the greatest contributor to vaccine hesitancy is a lack of proper communication and education.”

Vaccine hesitancy, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), refers to delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccine services. And, reasons for this hesitancy include misinformation, concerns over the safety of the vaccines, and complacency.

Traditionally, Guyana’s population has not had significant vaccine-hesitant or anti-vaccination groups. For decades, Guyana has had a good track record with the administration of the 18 childhood vaccines, averaging at more than 90 per cent coverage.

In 2020, when the WHO reported a global decline in childhood vaccination, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said that Guyana still maintained its efficient and extensive children’s immunisation record. This year, however, following the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, there have been increasing vaccine-hesitant and anti-vaccination sentiments. This is evidenced by a few protests that were recently held in some parts of the country.

Dr. Carpen contended that misinformation may be contributing to these actions.

Head of Medical Services at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) Dr. Mahendra Carpen (Photo: News Room/September 24, 2021)

He said: “A lot of people have opinions and if you say it over and over, some interpret those as facts,” adding, “You have to be careful where you get your facts from.”

Dr. Carpen said that there are credible sources of information that people should access for their information on the vaccines or on COVID-19 generally. These include the WHO, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the US Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), Guyana’s Ministry of Health, and other reputable Caribbean bodies.

“These are all reputable bodies with persons who are actually trained and qualified to analyse data and make statements,” he emphasised.

Last week, in a message to the White House COVID-19 summit convened by US President Joseph Biden. President Dr. Irfaan Ali said, “…vaccine hesitancy and its manipulation for the purposes of political mischief are conspiring to hobble our movement towards herd immunity.”

The Head of State encouraged all to get vaccinated to protect themselves from experiencing the worst symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Carpen, who has oversight for the National Infectious Diseases hospital (the Ocean View hospital) at Liliendaal, Georgetown, also encouraged people to get vaccinated. He said that the COVID-19 vaccines are the best available tools that work to prevent people from experiencing the more serious and life-threatening symptoms of the disease, COVID-19.

Even so, however, he acknowledged that these COVID-19 vaccines are not “magic bullets” and that no vaccine has ever been 100 per cent effective against preventing infections. And it is for this reason that there are a few cases where people who are vaccinated might still become infected and unfortunately die.

But, the situation of vaccinated people dying is slightly nuanced. A partially vaccinated person (that is, someone with only one dose of a two-dose vaccine) has a lower level of vaccine protection because they have not received that second, booster shot.

Meanwhile, in few rare cases, fully vaccinated patients might get infected and possibly experience serious and life-threatening symptoms. The fully vaccinated patients who died locally, however, were all patients with severe, life-threatening conditions– such as heart diseases and kidney failures- that contributed to their passing

And, Dr. Carpen emphasised that about 95 to 98 per cent of the time, the vaccines will protect people from getting admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where they might have to be put on a ventilator. This ventilator is used for people who cannot breathe normally.

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