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CARPHA helping the region in COVID-19 fight

Nick Nunes

CARPHA helping the region in COVID-19 fight
CARPHA executive director, Dr Joy St John. (FILE)

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The acquisition of the COVID-19 vaccine and roll out of the vaccination programme were praised by the Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr Joy St John.

“We are living in historic times and I have never seen, even though I was involved in the Barbados response to the H1N1 pandemic and have done adult MMR catch-up campaigns, I have never seen anything like the way in which Barbados and other countries in the Caribbean have geared themselves up and been prepared to deliver the vaccine.

“Taking the vaccine, if you so choose to do, is perhaps the  Caribbean’s best chance in finding the good balance between lives and livelihood and returning to economic activity. For those of us who have been given the privilege of access, because access is hard fought for, once we want to do it you should not walk but walk briskly or even run to get the vaccine.”

Her comments were made during a recent online panel discussion produced by the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management entitled COVID-19- Debunking Myths of the Jab, where, among other things, she spoke about some people’s reluctance to take this new vaccine.

“CARPHA has been doing research to check on the reasons for vaccine hesitancy among the general population and PAHO is doing the same for healthcare workers,” she said. “We are going to design messages and campaigns for the region which are a response to these concerns.

“CARPHA has had the remit given it through its intergovernmental agreement, and also specific remits given from heads of governments, and we have been managing this through a health security perspective. There is not only the surveillance perspective but there is a perspective of getting governments to understand that those with NCDs are at greater risk,” St John asserted.

She also relayed that after she took the vaccine she had fever, chills, headache, and body ache.

“I took Panadol and the next day I was fine. Usually, the reaction is short and sharp if you are going to have any effects at all,” she told those present on the webinar.

Dr St John, who represented Barbados on the Executive Board of the WHO and then became the first Caribbean person to Chair the Executive Board from 2012 to 2013, and was Senior Advisor to WHO supporting the co-facilitators of the UN General Assembly Review of the high-level summit of NCDs in 2014, said that CARPHA had been providing guidance to member states and testing.

“Not only the PCR testing, but in collaboration with the University of the West Indies, we have been testing for the variants. There has also been vaccine regulation. There have been questions about why we have been using certain vaccines.”

“It is best to use vaccines which have gone through an approval process and the best process is the WHO approval. The use of Covishield [AstraZeneca made in India], AstraZeneca (made in Korea), as well as the Pfizer is clear because they have been approved by WHO. CARPHA also recognises five other authorities and therefore from that perspective the Moderna is also recognised,” she stated.

“Because of our connection to the European Union, we had a pot of funds which helped us to help countries by giving down payments for 9 of the 13 countries that have signed up for COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access.”

“We also have a tourism and health programme which allows us to support our biggest money order in the region, which is tourism, in getting the kinds of protocols which allow for the balance between lives and livelihoods,” she added.

“We have not only done work within the Caribbean region. We have done a lot of work outside of the region, as well. It is amazing the number of persons who have come to us to work with them as far as the Far East,” she alerted.

According to St John, “The testing for the variants that we have been doing and the samples that we have collected from over 17 member states have only so far revealed the UK variant. We do testing for all the variants including the South Africa and the Brazil variants. The current vaccines that are being used in the Caribbean region have been tested against the variants.”

“In the studies that have been published and peer-reviewed, the level of efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been quite high and we have started seeing that countries using AstraZeneca have seen a decrease in the hospitalisations as well as deaths,” she enlightened.

In addressing the lack of approval of AstraZeneca from Switzerland, Dr Joy St John said she is going by the WHO’s global remit. In further addressing questions, she went on to address the notion of how many need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity

“There is a lot of conjecture about this it may be 75 percent or more we do not know,” she declared.

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr Kenneth Connell, Deputy Dean of Internationalisation and Outreach and Clinical Pharmacologist in the triple accredited Faculty of Medical Sciences at the Cave Hill Campus. It included Dr. Justin Robinson, Director of the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management; Dr Karen Broome-Toppin, the Pan America Health Organisation Adviser Immunisation for the Caribbean Region; Dr Kim Quimby, lecturer in Immunology at the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre (GACDRC), UWI Cave Hill campus and Curriculum Coordinator of the Caribbean Cytometry and Analytical Society; as well as Dr Michelle Reece,  assistant professor in the department of Public Health, College of Health and Human Services at the Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

This article is brought to you by Better Health Magazine.