There are indications that the vaccine hesitancy sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic could translate into Barbadian parents opting not to have their children immunised against other diseases in the future.
According to the early findings of an ongoing UNICEF study, parents have admitted that their decision on whether to give their children vaccines against Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTP), and Polio and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) could be influenced by the concerns surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.
This, according to Social and Behavioural Change Specialist at UNICEF Dr Lisa McClean-Trotman and Minister of Health in Antigua and Barbuda Sir Molwyn Joseph, has the potential to roll back gains made in the region regarding those diseases.
The concerns were expressed against the background of preliminary findings from an ongoing study on Caribbean people’s perceptions about the vaccination of children, 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 Eastern Caribbean Area, which sought to find out, among other things, how the discourse around COVID-19 vaccination has influenced persons’ likelihood to get themselves or their children vaccinated with other vaccines.
McClean-Trotman shared a bit of the study with regional journalists on Friday at a workshop in Antigua entitled Beyond COVID-19: The Children’s Story.
She said that as was the case across the Caribbean countries surveyed, there is some vaccine hesitancy in Barbados not only towards COVID-19 jabs but other vaccines.
McClean-Trotman said this had implications for Caribbean children’s right to health and overall immunisation coverage in the region.
The Antigua and Barbuda Health Minister expressed concern about this hesitancy, warning that if it is not addressed, some of the illnesses that have been eradicated in the region, such as measles and polio, could resurface.
“We have decades of evidence that all the vaccines taken by our children are safe and efficacious . . . but what we have now is a problem of vaccine hesitancy that started in COVID and is spreading,” Sir Molwyn said.
“Vaccines are used routinely in the Caribbean. Why are we now seeing a decline in the rate of compliance in the Caribbean? This is a very serious development . . . . This is a great threat. It might not appear so but if our children start coming down with measles and rubella and those things then you will understand.”
He said while children in other parts of the world were dying because they did not have access to vaccines, there was no such situation in the Caribbean, and he urged parents not to let disinformation about COVID-19 prevent them from getting their children immunised.
Meantime, addressing the participants, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Office for the Eastern Caribbean Area Heather Stewart highlighted that in addition to the much-discussed health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were also severe repercussions for the region’s children.
“The pandemic . . . is as much a social and economic threat as a health crisis, creating extremely challenging situations. In many respects it is a child rights crisis,” she said.
“The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the deep inequalities in our societies; millions of children across the world are still missing out on basic healthcare, cut off from education, and left without protection. Our region hasn’t escaped. Staggered school days shortened timetables and blended education – in a scenario where access to the internet is often limited – deprive many of a solid education,” Stewart added.
A recent UNICEF/World Bank/UNESCO report projected a staggering finding that two years of COVID-19 school closures in the region may have set learning outcomes back by more than a decade.
“The costs of the pandemic for children are immediate and, if unaddressed, may persist throughout their lives,” Stewart warned.
During Friday’s workshop organised by UNICEF and USAID, regional journalists learned from experts about the extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, including on their education and mental health. The media workers were provided with tips on tools for reporting on that impact.