A study commissioned by UNICEF on vaccine hesitancy in the Caribbean was released last Friday. Over 5000 people in six countries — Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago — were interviewed in late 2021 to examine the extent of, and reasons for, vaccine hesitancy – and whether the minds of vaccine hesitant persons could be changed.
The study unearthed some interesting information which Governments may find useful in crafting messages which they hope will influence behaviour change. Their communications professionals will have their work cut out for them because the findings also laid bare certain contradictions among our people in relation to the vaccine which do not bode well for easy mind changing. Rather it seems that in some cases, the hesitancy is a push back against authority for reasons that have little to do with health.
In today’s edition, we carry two stories on pages 1 and 3 about some of the broad findings of the study, including the fact that of the countries surveyed, vaccine hesitancy is greatest in St Vincent and the Grenadines. We stood out not only for our reluctance to take a COVID-19 vaccine but also for being the only country where the majority of people surveyed said they were able to choose their vaccine of preference. That was true at the time of the survey and it is true today. Any eligible person may walk up to a vaccination centre anywhere in the country and request to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with either the British developed AstraZeneca, the American Pfizer, the Russian Sputnik or the Cuban Abdala – a veritable United Nations of vaccines! It could very well be that instead of having the desired effect of giving everyone exactly what they wanted, the choices overwhelmed some people to the point where nothing at all was chosen!
CADRES, the organisation that conducted the survey noted that across the region, there is anecdotal evidence that unvaccinated persons are more likely to oppose the government. This is no coincidence.
Unfortunately, too many of our people regard taking a COVID-19 vaccine as subjugating themselves to the will of the Government, rather than participating in a public health measure. The messaging that this group of people needs to hear must come not from ministries of health, but the political leadership of Opposition parties who have been in most cases shirking their responsibility to help to wrest our nations from the grip of the pandemic.
Finally, most of the unvaccinated persons who participated in the survey said they were hesitant because of mistrust of the vaccines because they did not know what was in them and because they were fearful of the long-term effects. But interestingly, the second highest motivation for taking the vaccine was if it was needed for work or travel. This reveals another contradiction because if one is fearful of the vaccine, that fear could not be that deep seated if it could be brushed aside merely by the promise of work or travel.
We wish the various implementation agencies across the Caribbean all the very best with the design and implementation of strategies that we hope will bring about the behaviour change we need to beat back COVID-19.