Health Minister expects anti-vaccine push-back

Even as the government prepares to receive the COVID-19 vaccines, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is anticipating “anti-vaccine kickbacks” even from within the medical fraternity.

Deyalsingh was speaking at the virtual opening of the first National Health and Research Conference on Thursday, one day after he announced that preparations are being done to receive the first batch of vaccines.

During the ministry’s virtual media conference on Wednesday, the minister said that the Moderna vaccine will be more feasible for T&T than the Pfizer vaccine.

The ministry has already selected three sites to store the vaccine, two in Trinidad and one in Tobago.

Deyalsingh was speaking about the ethics in health research and gaining the public’s trust when he addressed the issue of opposition to the vaccine.

“We are going to have a challenge and some research has to be done on this and this has to be the anti-vaccine kickback that we are going to get when a COVID vaccine is launched. That is going to be an area that we will have to find out what leads the population and even some in the medical fraternity and we cannot exclude the medical fraternity from this because there are some doctors locally and internationally who buy into the conspiracy theories about vaccines.”

He noted that the COVAX facility of which the Moderna vaccine is a part is a clear example of how a world premier facility can communicate, can coordinate using research to bring about public trust in that research.

Noting that the topics in the conference are in line with the ministry’s strategic priorities, he pointed out that Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the country.

According to data submitted by the regional health authorities for the period January to September, he said there have been 2,128 NCD-related. He gave the following breakdown: heart disease 48 per cent, diabetes 22 per cent, cancer 13 per cent, and cerebrovascular disease 17 per cent. He said the goal of his ministry’s NCD plan is to reduce the burden of preventable mortality before age 70 due to NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025. “With the advent of NCDs, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is increasingly challenged to maintain the health of their people in an equitable and cost-effective way. There continues to, therefore, be the need for research on the effectiveness, outcomes, access, and cost of the varying options available of the health of the population.” The minister, however, underscored the importance of ethics in the conduct of health research. “As Trinidad and Tobago increases capacity to conduct essential health research it is imperative to ensure that research is conducted ethically so that the well-being of those who participate in research is adequately protected and that institutions involved in the conduct of research assume their responsibility in ensuring that that research is ethical.” Also praising the conference organisers for allotting time in their discussions for mental health and the use of marijuana in the management of cancer, he noted that the T&T government is at the cusp of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. The conference will culminate today.

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