Study finds vaccination hesitancy in Barbados extends beyond COVID-19 shots

There are indications that the vaccine hesitancy sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic could result in Barbadian parents choosing not to have their children vaccinated against other diseases in the future.

According to the first results of an ongoing study by UNICEF, parents admitted that their decision whether or not to have their children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), poliomyelitis and human papillomavirus (HPV) could be influenced by concerns surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to UNICEF Social and Behavior Change Specialist Dr Lisa McClean-Trotman and Antigua and Barbuda Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph, this could set back the region’s progress on these diseases. .

The concerns were expressed against the background of preliminary results of an ongoing study of Caribbean people’s perceptions of childhood vaccination, which UNICEF hopes will be completed by the end of August.

Barbados was one of six countries included in the study conducted by the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) for UNICEF’s Eastern Caribbean Region, which sought to find out, among other things, how the discourse around COVID-19 vaccination has influenced the likelihood of people getting vaccinated or having their children vaccinated with other vaccines.

On Friday, McClean-Trotman shared part of the study with regional journalists during a workshop in Antigua titled Beyond COVID-19: The Children’s Story.

She said that, as was the case in the Caribbean countries studied, there is some vaccine hesitancy in Barbados, not only in relation to COVID-19 bites, but also other vaccines.

McClean-Trotman said this has implications for Caribbean children’s right to health and overall immunization coverage in the region.

Antigua and Barbuda’s health minister has expressed concern over the hesitation, warning that if left unaddressed, some of the diseases that have been eradicated in the region, such as measles and poliomyelitis, could to reemerge.

“We have decades of evidence that all vaccines taken by our children are safe and effective. . . but what we have now is a problem of vaccine hesitancy that started with COVID and is spreading,” said Sir Molwyn.

“Vaccines are used regularly in the Caribbean. Why are we now seeing a drop in the compliance rate in the Caribbean? This is a very serious development. . . . It’s a big threat. It might not seem like it, but if our kids start getting measles and rubella and those things, you’ll understand.

He said that if children in other parts of the world were dying because they did not have access to vaccines, such a situation did not exist in the Caribbean, and he urged parents not to let misinformation on COVID-19 prevent them from having their children vaccinated.

Meanwhile, addressing participants, Heather Stewart, Child Protection Specialist in the UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Regional Office, pointed out that in addition to the much-discussed health and economic impacts of the pandemic of COVID-19, there were also serious repercussions for children in the region.

“The pandemic. . . is as much a social and economic threat as a health crisis, creating extremely difficult situations. In many ways, this is a child rights crisis,” she said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the deep inequalities of our societies; millions of children around the world are still deprived of basic health care, cut off from education and left unprotected. Our region is no exception. Staggered school days, shortened hours and mixed education – in a scenario where internet access is often limited – robs many of a solid education,” Stewart added.

A recent UNICEF/World Bank/UNESCO report projected a staggering finding that two years of COVID-19-related school closures in the region may have set back learning outcomes by more than a decade.

“The costs of the pandemic to children are immediate and, if not addressed, can persist throughout their lives,” Stewart warned.

During Friday’s workshop hosted by UNICEF and USAID, regional journalists were briefed by experts on the extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, including their education and their mental health. Media professionals were advised on tools to report on this impact.

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