Governments Must Decide on Mandatory Vaccination Program Says PAHO Director

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne, says it should be left to sovereign states to decide whether or not to enforce a mandatory coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination program for its population as she urged Dominica to “seriously consider” any call to relax measures to allow for activities such as Carnival.

Our position is that this is a sovereign decision. We know that making vaccines mandatory has been fraught with civil unrest, demonstrations etc. What we do know however that where mandatory vaccination has been deployed, like among health care workers in some countries, the coverage has risen to 94, 95 percent from 40 something, 50 something,” Dr. Etienne said on Sunday night.

Speaking on the weekly television program “Annou Pale” (Let’s Speak), hosted by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, the Dominican-born senior PAHO official said the UN organization is also aware of businesses that have imposed either mandatory vaccination or testing programs.

- Advertisement -

“Some say you can’t work here if you are not vaccinated, others say every week you have to bring me a negative COVID test.

“Now that is one of my concerns too because I find when I look at the figures in Dominica that instead of going and getting vaccinated they are going for tests. How many thousands of tests people are going to take?

“Really testing is not going to prevent you from getting COVID. What you should be doing is getting vaccinated. So at some stage, you have to consider letting people pay for those tests. If your business place says you must provide tests then you should go and get the test commercially because the government has provided you with vaccines, they provided you with the information, if you want to go and expose yourself, then pay for it,” she said.

- Advertisement -

Dr. Etienne, who is in Dominica on vacation from her Washington post, said Dominicans should seriously consider taking the COVID vaccines available to them, recalling that with measles, countries needed at least 95 percent coverage to prevent an outbreak.

“Now, if there are enough people vaccinated, the virus has greater difficulty spreading from one person to another because the transmissibility to a vaccinated person is much less than an unvaccinated person.

“So if there are sufficient numbers that are vaccinated, the virus will stop having susceptible people and so it will stop the transmission. Another thing we have to consider is that as long as transmission is occurring then we can have the emergence of variants”.

The PAHO Director told viewers that there are people who believe that the variants are only those labeled as Alpha, Beta and Gramna, noting that variants are occurring all the time.

“Not all of them rise to the level of a variant of concern,” she said, noting that “Dominica and the Caribbean had Delta variant and that was responsible for the massive increase we have seen. In Latin America Delta was not the main variant of concern, it was more Gamma, but Delta had higher transmissibility and caused worse diseases.”

“The vaccination helps. We had smallpox, a terrible disease that killed and the way we stopped smallpox was by vaccination when the sufficient number of people were vaccinated there were no more susceptibles and the virus died….”

Dr. Etienne described it as a “no brainer” when asked to comment on the calls by people here for Dominica to host Carnival activities next year.

“People who are vaccinated can be infected and they can pass on the infection. I think we need to know that. But those who are not vaccinated have a higher chance of becoming infected and passing on that infection.”

She said that the public health measures call for social distancing, proper washing of hands and the wearing of masks, which some people are not adhering to.

“Until people become very serious about adhering to the public health measures, they have to learn to accept there is the possibility and it is the government’s responsibility to protect the people in terms of the public health and I dare say your hands are tied by the people themselves,” she noted in relations to mandatory vaccination.

“We have seen in countries that have significant 70 percent or more vaccination coverage when they relax on the public health measures they get another spike.

“SARS are to be considered pretty seriously. Once you congregate there is always an opportunity for infection. If it is a Carnival situation, people are going to be drinking, they are not going to be wearing their masks …and so that increases the opportunity and as I said even though you are vaccinated you can be infected and you can transmit that infection as well.

“Now how are you going to ensure that everybody who hands you a certificate that that person is vaccinated. Do they have to bring an ID card so you can verify,” she said, warning that persons could present false documents to participate in the event.

“One of the serious considerations as well is, if you have this mass congregation and then you begin another wave of cases, what is the capacity of your health system to deal with a large number of cases”.

She said that in many of the bigger countries, the health system and health services have been overwhelmed by COVID cases “much less for a small island with the capacity that we have.”

‘Where are you going to treat with them? Who is going to take care of them? How are you going to manage? Where are you going to get the resources and investments to do this? These are serious questions that would need to be considered by any government and that is our recommendation to them,”

‘You have to weigh the relaxing of public health measures with are your health system and services ready to deal with a large number of cases,” she said, adding that similar recommendations are also made when countries engage in election campaigns.

“Because we have seen a massive increase in cases after election campaigns,” Dr. Etienne told the television audience.

Dominica has recorded 35 deaths and 5,336 infections linked to the COVID-19 pandemic since last March.


Other Articles

Latest Articles

Skip to content