Youth fear COVID jab
Young Jamaicans across the island, some currently studying at local universities, have already signalled their reluctance to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available in Jamaica although it is considered a key tool in the fight to restore their lives to normalcy.
Youth leaders at both The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, and the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Mandeville, Manchester, told Gleaner editors and reporters yesterday that some of their peers have bought into the fears surrounding the vaccine.
“Many persons are against it, and based on the uncertainties of the vaccine, they are totally against it and are waiting to see what will happen next,” said Marleen Campbell, vice-president of the NCU Students’ Union during a Gleaner Youth Editor’s Forum.
She said that some of her peers were following reports of adverse reactions from those who have already taken it to determine if they, too, should take the jab when it becomes available.
Public relations officer for the UWI Guild External Affairs Committee, Ashleigh Onfroy, said that the reactions from students at her institution have been mixed, with some saying they would take it “if push comes to shove”.
“Some are against it for religious reasons and for other reasons. They are just generally uncertain,” she said.
Youth parliamentarian and public health inspector Saneisha Parsons said young people are gravitating more towards natural herbs to fight the virus, given their distrust of the vaccine. There has been no scientific evidence supporting the efficiency of natural remedies in fighting the virus.
“Some people say the vaccine was made too fast as compared to other vaccines, and there hasn’t been as much testing or long-term testing, so Jamaicans are not leaning towards the vaccine,” Parsons said.
Jamaica is projected to spend US$8.2 million (J$1.18 billion) to procure one million vials of vaccines under the COVAX facility, with the first batch of 292,000 doses expected to arrive in April. An estimated 16 per cent of the population is being targeted for inoculation by the end of the year.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton noted in previous media reports that he was cognizant that some Jamaicans were sceptical of the jab but said that the ministry has a strategy to help gain public confidence and drive the take-up of the vaccine.
Onfroy believes that using medical anthropologists and other professionals from different sectors to do research could help the roll-out process.
“It is all well and good to provide information, but the truth is that if there is a psycho-social block there, you can produce as much information as you want to, but unless we get to the root of the issue, it will just come through one ear and go through the next,” she said.
Gleaner columnist David Salmon believes that correcting some of the misinformation circulating about the vaccine would be useful in minimising the obvious apathy towards it.
“You have to correct the misinformation on social media, misinformation in casual small groups, misinformation based on religious reasons, we have to look at that first,” he said. “If you have misinformation already being shared among the population and it is not being addressed, then persons are going to think, ‘Well, maybe it may not be entirely true, but there may be some truth to it’, so it has to be corrected now.”
Economist Johnique Francis has taken note of requests for the prime minister and other government officials to take the vaccine publicly and agrees that this could be useful in building trust, but she said that there were other strategies that could be pursued.
“Music is a brilliant avenue to reach our people,” she said.