A new COVID-19 vaccination campaign to sensitise parents, caregivers, and adolescents about the benefits of immunization is being developed and will soon be implemented by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
The effort is being done in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Some US$70,000 has been targeted to assist in the implementation of activities aimed at accelerating COVID-19 vaccine uptake.
A release from CARPHA reports that the US$70,000 donation is part of the US$1.5 million COVID-19 assistance announced by USAID in March 2022, for countries in the Eastern Caribbean region including Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, and Suriname.
Back in 2021, CARPHA received an ultra-cold freezer from the United States Embassy in Port of Spain, part of an overall donation which includes laboratory supplies, laboratory coats, and scrubs.
“As COVID-19 restrictions ease throughout the Region, the communications campaign will serve as a timely reminder to improve vaccination coverage within the countries of the Caribbean region,” the CARPHA release stated.
CARPHA’s Executive Director Dr Joy St. John, gave a commitment that CARPHA will work with the beneficiary countries to help them achieve the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended target of 70% full immunisation rate against COVID-19.
She observed that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the region was a global leader in vaccination achievements, noting the Caribbean had eliminated polio, and achieved “vaccination coverage rates over 90-95% for routine childhood vaccinations”.
“Access to safe, reliable vaccines has proven to be the most effective way of preventing severe illness and death, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CARPHA Executive Director said. “Alongside the public health safety measures, employed by all of society, vaccination has helped the region survive this pandemic.”
Dr St. John added: “The wave of vaccine hesitancy which we watched sweep over North America and Europe over the last decade also arrived on the shores of the Caribbean as the number of cases of COVID-19 increased. Just over two years into the pandemic, data is already revealing some erosion of hard-fought gains made over the years in routine vaccination programmes across the Member States.”
Chargé d’Affaires at U.S. Embassy Port of Spain, Mr Shante Moore, observed:
“CARPHA, as the leading health authority and coordinator in the Caribbean region, is uniquely positioned to provide guidance and assistance to Caribbean countries on methods and messaging to increase vaccination coverage.”
“As the saying goes, ‘Local problems need local solutions,’ and that defines the spirit of this collaboration. With this funding, CARPHA will develop and implement a subregional campaign to improve vaccination coverage,” he said.
“The United States Government is pleased to be associated with this initiative,” the US official added. “I take this opportunity to restate our commitment to assist the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large to overcome COVID-19.”
Social Policy Officer at UNICEF’s Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Jemimah Wilson, described the partnership between CARPHA, UNICEF and USAID as “ambitious”, noting that it “will build on and cement an already fruitful collaboration aimed at mitigating the ravages of COVID-19”.
“We are all aware that vaccination is one of the ways for us to put this devastating pandemic in our rear-view mirror, reclaim our everyday lives and look to the future with confidence and optimism,” the UNICEF official said.
“Progress has most certainly been made to date, but we are far from where we need to be. In four of the countries and territories in the Eastern Caribbean, for example, the percentage of those fully vaccinated ranges from just 28 per cent to 38 per cent. This has to change, and UNICEF is committed to working with CARPHA and USAID to redouble our efforts to ensure that all Caribbean children grow up healthy without COVID-19,” she added.
The CARPHA-USAID-UNICEF alliance was formalised at a ceremony hosted on Wednesday 20 July 2022, at the start of the CARPHA Technical Advisory Committee meeting was chaired by Dr Mark Sami, Director of Corporate Services at CARPHA.
In attendance were Dr Joy St. John, Executive Director of CARPHA; Mr. Shante Moore Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Alana Shury, COVID-19 Coordinator, USAID/Eastern and Southern Caribbean; Jemimah Wilson, Social Policy Officer, UNICEF Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean; and Members of the Technical Advisory Committee.