Jamaica Observer, Saturday, March 12, 2022.
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
WITH the Government set to miss its target of vaccinating 65 per cent of Jamaicans against the novel coronavirus by this month end, independent public policy think tank Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) says a recent study has shown that the anaemic response results from a high rate of distrust, both in the Administration and the vaccine.
Two years ago, on March 10, Jamaica confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. A year later the country received its first shipment of the coveted vaccines. That also marked the advent of the country's vaccination programme, with the objective being to vaccinate 65 per cent of the population or approximately 1.7 million people by March 31, 2022. Jamaica, however, continues to trail its Caribbean neighbours in respect of the rate of take-up of the jabs, with only 22 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated — the second-lowest rate in the region.
On Thursday, CAPRI launched its latest report titled Long shot, aiming to reduce vaccine hesitancy, which explored the reasons behind the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Jamaica, and involved a cross-sectional sample of 1,170 participants across the island.
Chief People Officer Christina Ivey, presenting the findings, said “trust, or the lack of it, was a major issue, as among the top reasons cited for not taking the vaccine were lack of trust in the Government and in the efficacy of the vaccine itself”.
According to CAPRI, “Jamaica, generally speaking, is a low-trust society. This lack of trust is evident with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine as nearly 80 per cent of those who did not take it indicated that they lacked trust in their Government, compared to 36 per cent of people who do trust the Government.”
“There is even higher distrust in the vaccine itself: 87 per cent of the unvaccinated do not trust the vaccine, compared to 35 per cent of the vaccinated. Fifty-six per cent of the respondents cited the newness of the vaccine, its potential harm, or not knowing enough about the vaccine as reasons for not getting vaccinated,” the report stated.
Correspondingly, 78 per cent of respondents said that more information on how the vaccine works, its effectiveness, and its safety would most likely persuade them to take it. Outside of family members, the most trusted source of the information are doctors and other health-care workers. According to CAPRI, “Public officials should not be the face of a COVID-19 vaccination drive.” Furthermore, it said, while the study did not directly consider the question of vaccine mandates, the data gathered suggest that “they may do more harm than good”.
“Given the trust deficit in the Government, and the lack of confidence in the vaccine, a vaccine mandate is likely to not only be resisted, but may harden resistance to taking the vaccine and create openings for fraudulent vaccine certificates, which will then undermine the trustworthiness of all vaccine certification,” the CAPRI study said.
In the meantime, the think tank found that, given the extensive media coverage of some Christian churches' outspoken opposition to the vaccine, the role of religion as a determinant of willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine was not what might have been expected.
According to CAPRI, 47 per cent of those who identified as religious had taken the vaccine, 12 percentage points more than the (self-identified) non-religious respondents who had not taken the jab.
Meanwhile, the survey found that education and income were both critical determinants of an individual's willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the report, 46 per cent of those who had completed a bachelor's degree were vaccinated, whereas only 33 per cent of those who did not finish high school were inoculated, and only 23 per cent who did not finish primary school had received the vaccine. CAPRI said, similarly, the higher one's income bracket the more likely that person is to take the vaccine. It said half of the higher income bracket had taken the vaccine, compared to 40 per cent of those in the middle-income bracket, and 35 per cent in the low-income bracket.
The think tank has recommended, among other things, the creation of messaging and information packages that are easy to understand and specifically speak to the safety of the vaccines, the ingredients of the vaccine, how the vaccine works, and how it was developed so quickly to help combat the scepticism. In addition, it has proposed that a compensation scheme for vaccine-related health complications be developed.
The Jamaican Government, like others worldwide, has indemnified vaccine manufacturers against vaccine injury claims. As a result, anyone seeking legal remedy for adverse events associated with vaccination would have to bring a claim against the Government to receive compensation.
CAPRI said that, given the usually significant delays in seeking redress through the courts, the Government should develop a compensation scheme for vaccine-related complications as this will provide reassurance to those who are concerned about side effects and are risk averse.
“This fiscal risk need not and should not be carried out by the Government since it has the option of buying the insurance from a third party,” CAPRI said further.
Four vaccines are now being administered in Jamaica: AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Sinopharm.