Secretary for the Division of Health, Wellness and Social Protection in the Tobago House of Assembly, Dr Faith B Yisrael. (Image courtesy Division of Health, Wellness and Social Protection)

Vaccine shaming and threats are preventing more people from getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and its variants.

This comment was made by Dr Faith B Yisrael, the Secretary for the Division of Health, Wellness and Social Protection in the Tobago House of Assembly.

Speaking with Guardian Media on Tuesday, the THA Health Secretary said the Ministry of Health has constantly used an approach of threats and shaming, which has pushed more people away from getting vaccinated.

“That has been the process of COVID-19 communications from the beginning of the pandemic in 2019, and it certainly has not changed,” she said.

And Dr Faith B Yisrael maintains the vaccination process has been stymied because of the mechanism used to communicate about the vaccine. She said

“I am one to insist that when we provide information about the vaccine that we provide, accurate information that allays people’s fears about the vaccines, and that would allow them to make an informed decision,” she said.  

“I have been speaking with the people and people are very scared, so the mechanism that has been used by the Ministry of Health and even the Prime Minister—which is really vaccine shaming—has not worked.  Therefore, we are seeing quite a bit of resistance.  We are seeing hesitation on one end, and we are seeing resistance on the other,” she explained.

“In Tobago, we have decided that we are going to use another approach,” she stated.  “We are going to use a softer approach.”

She said more consultations would be done with stakeholders:

“In due course we would be able to increase our vaccination rate of people who are comfortable to be vaccinated and not because they are simply forced to be vaccinated.”

The Health Secretary noted that individual pockets in communities would be identified for heart-to-heart discussions.

“I have actually had conversations with somebody who told me that they are afraid that they would die. That is not a simple idea.  The thought of dying is a real fear and when I spoke to that person, I answered the critical question they had.  I assured them of the safety and that person has now actually taken the vaccine and gotten their second dose,” she revealed.

She added: “There is a real genuine fear that individuals have, and we have to respect the fact that these are human beings with real concerns.  We cannot continue shouting.  We cannot just continue bouffing.  We cannot just continue vaccine-shaming people. We need to provide the information and the comfort that is required for them to make that decision on their own.”

Dr Yisrael told Guardian Media the TRHA will install a refrigeration unit over this weekend to deal with the pile up of bodies of persons who died with COVID.  She said the refrigeration unit has a capacity of around 50 bodies and is to be located on the compound of the Scarborough General Hospital.

“The number of deaths that are happening every day are higher than the normal,” she said.  “In addition, we have that compounded with the fact that many of the families of individuals who have died are on quarantine themselves and therefore, cannot do the normal process of getting their loved ones buried quickly, so that has resulted in there being quite a pile up, for want of a better term.”

Dr Yisrael said the THA was trying to encourage extended family members to get burials done faster and would be providing additional storage for the departed.  She said having to get additional storage creates the idea that more people are expected to die.

“That is a sad, sad reality for Tobago but it’s a contingency mechanism we had to put into place because of the number of bodies,” she acknowledged.