People in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who might not think they need a COVID-19 vaccine because they are young and healthy are being warned that they could be left with long lasting side effects if they contract the virus.
The information came from Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache as she spoke with iWitness News during a Facebook Live broadcast, on Wednesday, as SVG ramped up its COVID-19 vaccination drive.
Regarding persons who might not be in the high-risk groups in terms of age and comorbidity and might be sceptical, Keizer-Beache said she would make two points.
“There is personal and [there is] the community,” she said.
“So, for somebody who is sceptical, to you, I would say you are healthy, you are strong, you are young but you can still get it, you can still have long term effects and then you might have somebody in your immediate circle who is not healthy, strong and young, and who you’d want to protect,” Keizer-Beache said.
SVG is hoping to vaccinate about 50,000 people in the next month, providing that it has enough doses, Minister of Health St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince told iWitness News, also at Victoria Park, when the vaccination drive took place.
And, Keizer-Beache explained how vaccines work.
She told iWitness News that rather than having one’s body wait until it encounters a particular virus to begin producing a response, the vaccine causes the body to build a response before it encounters the illness.
“If you have a vaccine, you give it to the person, you don’t become infected but your body becomes aware that this is something wrong, so that when the real thing comes along, the body is ready,” the doctor explained.
At Wednesday’s event, health officials were giving the Covishield (Indian) AstraZeneca vaccine, 40,000 doses of which were received from India on Monday.
The vaccine contained a virus like, but not the coronavirus, “and that takes the information of the coronavirus into your body safely and allows your body to get ready,” Keizer-Beache explained.
She said that getting vaccinated is important, noting that eight persons have died of COVID-19 related complications, and many others have contracted the illness in SVG
The CMO said that even though most people will get a mild form of COVID-19, with some displaying no symptoms, “we are learning more and more that even the asymptomatic ones can have long lasting effects”.
“She further noted that a person who becomes infected has to stay at home for a long time as they recover and this results in decreased productivity and could affect one’s ability to care for one’s family.
“So it is extremely important that we not even get infected to begin with and that is why we want to take the vaccine.”
The CMO also responded to a question regarding the concerns among some that the vaccines were developed too quickly and had not been adequately tested for persons to have confidence in it.
“I would say the different technologies … the one we are using with the AstraZeneca, that’s an old technology. That’s been around for a long time.
“In terms of the Moderna, the messenger RNA, that is technology that was being developed for many years so that when coronavirus 2 came around last year, in 2020, it was ready. The information, the capacity to generate a vaccine of that nature was there already,” she explained.
“So even though it may seem to be new, because, ‘Oh, coronavirus was just last year, how could you have a vaccine already?’ no, the technology, the information, the capacity had been developed long before,” Keizer-Beache further stated.
She said health authorities are especially encouraging persons with comorbidities such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension to take the jab.
“… they have been shown to have a much worse outcome if they become infected. So that’s definitely a major category,” she said.
This worse outcome includes a higher chance of dying as well as having long, protracted side effects as a result of COVID-19.
Health officials are also encouraging persons 65 and older to get vaccinated as they are most at risk of having a very bad form of the illness.
Healthcare workers are especially being encouraged to take the vaccine because they are continuously exposed to COVID as they provide health care for persons infected with the illness.
“… and then the other link in between. That is, that even though I may be a diabetic and taking care of myself, my son who is 18 and he is out there, he is going to be liming a little bit, maybe he is not wearing his mask as he should be, he gets it, he comes home to me, I get it.
“So we are looking at protecting the primary persons and persons who might bring it to them. So, generally, the high priority workers are our healthcare workers, also we are talking about our frontline, police, immigration, and customs.”
Keizer-Beache further noted that SVG is a tourism-based country, and, therefore, tourism sector workers are being encouraged to get the jab.
“We are talking about teachers also, because teachers are there with our children. So even though the children can’t get vaccinated, they can get COVID, it’s less dangerous to them but they still [get it],” she said.
“So we need to protect all of those groups, and generally speaking, the majority of families in St. Vincent, the households, they have somebody who is a diabetic. So even though we are focusing on these particular groups, at the end of the day, we all need to be vaccinated.”
Regarding her own experience with the vaccine, Keizer-Beache said she had her second dose of Sputnik-V on Tuesday.
“The first dose, I had fever, chills, headache during the night. I took some Paracetamol and I settled by the morning. This one yesterday, so warned once, I took my Paracetamol earlier and I have been fine,” she said, adding that the side effects were normal.
Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, is a medication used to treat pain and fever. It is typically used for mild to moderate pain relief.