Misinformation fueling vaccine hesitancy, PAHO director says

Misinformation fueling vaccine hesitancy, PAHO director says

Etienne urges communities to embrace COVID vaccine

“PAHO is doing everything we can to get as many vaccines to our region as possible, as quickly as possible”

WASHINGTON, DC — Misinformation is one of the most serious threats to public health, and it is most damaging when it fuels vaccine hesitancy, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F Etienne said yesterday.

“Every person in a vulnerable group that is hesitant to get the vaccine can become part of the sad statistics, one of the thousands of deaths that occur daily due to COVID-19,” she told a press briefing.

“Vaccines are saving lives now and will contribute to control transmission in the near future when we achieve high immunization coverage.”

Reports of very rare unexpected side effects from some COVID-19 vaccines should not make people hesitate to get immunized, she asserted.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne. (FILE PHOTO)

“The vaccines delivered through COVAX have been thoroughly assessed by the WHO (World Health Organization) experts. The benefits of these vaccines in preventing infections, hospitalizations and deaths outweigh the risks of side events,” Etienne noted.

“Because unreliable information spreads quickly, PAHO is collaborating with tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook to address ‘fake news’ and ensure the public can easily find accurate information.”

The tragic milestone of more than three million deaths from COVID, nearly half of them in the Americas, “is a reminder that we must do more to protect each other because this virus continues to be a threat in every corner and community across our region,” Etienne said. In the last week alone, the Americas reported more than 1.5 million new COVID cases and nearly 40,000 deaths.

The PAHO director said: “COVID vaccines don’t provide instant protection. Our bodies take time to build up immunity to the virus after we’re vaccinated, and we won’t see their full impact until more of us are protected.

“Let’s remember that with the limited doses available to us at this time, the priority should be to save lives. Stopping transmission of this disease requires additional measures.”

Etienne noted that “in Israel, COVID-19 vaccines are already helping drive down infections, and initial data from Chile and some cities in Brazil indicate a reduction in hospitalizations among the elderly, thanks in part to COVID vaccines”.

“PAHO is doing everything we can to get as many vaccines to our region as possible, as quickly as possible,” she said.

A shipment of more than 33,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine arrives in The Bahamas via the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization COVAX Facility on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (FILE PHOTO)

“We have helped deliver more than 4.2 million doses of COVID vaccines to 29 countries in the Americas. Millions of additional vaccines are due in the coming weeks and we won’t stop until every country in our region has the vaccines they need.”

But, she noted: “We need more COVID vaccines for our region. We need countries to quickly administer the doses they have on hand.

“We need communities to build trust in vaccines. And when it’s your turn to get vaccinated, remember: these vaccines can save your life.”

Vaccination Week in the Americas, which starts next week, “is a perfect time to remind us all of the power of vaccines to save lives”, Etienne said.

“Vaccinations are a collective effort and the success of immunization campaigns depends on all of us,” she noted.