UN Launches initiative to tackle Vaccine Hesitancy and increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake
25 November 2021
COVID-19 vaccine wastage, fuelled by vaccine hesitancy, is steadily mounting across the Caribbean Sub-region.
To address this issue, UN Barbados and Eastern Caribbean mission, in collaboration with regional authorities and development partners, have embarked on an initiative to boost uptake, counter misinformation and save lives. An inter-agency proposal that aims to support the Eastern Caribbean countries and Overseas Territories was formally launched by the UN and is being implemented with the support of development partners, primarily USAID and Canada, who have committed financial resources to the endeavour.
Addressing the virtual ceremony, UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Didier Trebucq highlighted the importance of vaccination as the pandemic is heavily impacting economies and societies, increasing debt and deepening existing inequalities. Noting that restrictions of movement through border controls, curfews, school closures and lockdown measures have come at a huge cost to the region with countries’ debt to GDP ratios increasing by 21 percentage points between 2019 and 2020, and currently exceeding 100% of national income in some instances. The UN head urged other partners and donors to join the UN in this important undertaking.
“Partners and colleagues, the time for developing innovative strategies is now; if Caribbean SIDS are to restore their economies and have a fighting chance to get back on track the 2030 Agenda."
The joint proposal brings together six UN Agencies – PAHO/WHO (acting as technical lead agency), UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women, ITU and ILO – who are partnering with regional Governments to address vaccine hesitancy through policy advisory support; behavioural change strategies to complement ongoing communication and advocacy; addressing vaccine motivation; and strengthening vaccine rollout.
PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr. Yitades Gebre, painted a picture of lagging vaccine rates in recent months that has resulted in more than 62,000 COVID-19 doses being discarded due to expiration dates. He called for a more holistic approach to combatting misinformation perpetuated via social media and online forums.
“In August 14,000 vaccines were unused, In September 38,200 doses were also wasted and in October 9,600, which is a rough estimate. There is both vaccine hesitancy and open vial wastage.”
Dr. Gebre also revealed plans by the UN to strengthen vaccine delivery to minimize hesitancy, with a global coverage target of 70% by June 2022, with interim targets of 10% and 40% by September and December 2021 respectively.
Health Ministers from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda were also present to support the initiative, while giving first-hand reports of the COVID-19 situation in their countries.
Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Hon. St. Clair Prince, told the forum his Government had been navigating the impact of multiple crises - Dengue, COVID-19, and the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. Reporting evidence of vaccine effectiveness in reducing transmission, illness, and death, he strongly signaled his Government’s commitment to working to combat vaccine hesitancy.
“Our commitment is to continue to work on these key areas - research and policy, behavioural change strategies, risk communications and advocacy, vaccine rollout, vaccine monitoring and of course continuing to work with the UN and our partners to get vaccine hesitancy down in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Minister of Health and Social Security, the Hon. Nikolas Steele, noted that at the start of the pandemic in early 2020 Grenada had a 98.5 percent vaccination rate on all of the other WHO approved and prescribed vaccines. He emphasized that what had changed was the messaging surrounding COVID, the public debates on vaccines and most definitely the rise of conspiracy theories.
“But I think the most important aspect that we did underestimate was the power of social media and the fact that we have no control over it."
Minister Steele also referenced the fact that unvaccinated persons were demonstrating and encouraging others not to be vaccinated, and persons who traditionally complied were becoming weary of the sacrifices being made to help those who chose not to. He underlined the need for maintaining balance.
"As we move forward we need to find that ideal balance between carrot and stick to deal with the vaccination issue. There have been different reactions from the public, and time will tell which combination was the most effective. In Grenada , we choose to use more of education and less of legislation, and use legislation based on the risk levels of certain sectors, but there is no rule book.”
Minister Steele also underscored the need to ensure supply frequency and reliability of vaccines , that the vaccine debate to be restricted to only COVID-19 vaccines, and for the region to maintain vaccine certificate integrity.
The Hon. Sir Molwyn Joseph, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, told the forum that Antigua had always felt it important to maintain the delicate balance between protection of lives and livelihoods, which had not been an easy. He further admitted that enough may not have been done to educate the public on their personal role in public health, and the fact that this responsibility did not solely rest with clinicians.
“We have paid a high cost for our failure to really invest sufficiently in preventing the morbidities in our populations and allow the coronavirus to thrive. Recently there were 99 deaths at our hospital and 95 persons were unvaccinated. Yet with this alarming state of affairs with deaths and suffering we still have hesitancy, and this is why I welcome this dialogue and commend the UN and PAHO for facilitating[it]"
Minister Joseph emphasized that in Antigua they did not start off with mandates, but these only became necessary when a rapid decline in the economy and an increase in deaths and suffering were witnessed. He reveled that between September 30 when COVID-19 vaccine mandates were announced and November 17, Grenada recorded an uptake in vaccines by 13,000 persons. "We can with the right measures save lives and livelihoods," he concluded.
USAID Regional Representative, Mr. Clinton White told the forum that bolstering country readiness, with emphasis on addressing vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, is critical to getting vaccine doses into the people who need them.
"As announced at the Global COVID-19 Summit USAID plans to provide an additional $195 million in American Rescue Plan Funds for vaccine readiness and delivery around the world, which builds on the almost $700 million USAID is programming in vaccine readiness and delivery to help countries around the world to strengthen their programmes and enhance equity.”
Head of Cooperation, Global Affairs Canada, Ms. Jennifer Heys also reiterated Canada’s commitment to a robust global effort to stop COVID-19 and address its devastating health, socio-economic and security impacts on people around the world. She stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is a global threat that will only be overcome through coordinated global action.
“To date, Canada has mobilized more than $2.5 billion in international assistance in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic globally. Over $1.3 billion in new funds has been committed to date to help ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments for people around the world.”
UN Heads of Agencies from UNICEF, ITU and ILO also provided insight on current approaches to counter vaccine hesitancy. These included more concerted efforts to utilise social media to directly target and educate youth, other target groups and the public, with trusted, sourced, reliable information to counter misinformation and fake news.
Minister of Health St. Kitts and Nevis, the Hon. Akilah Byron- Nesbitt, in delivering closing remarks, while providing a country update, noted that unfortunately before the first COVID-19 vaccine could have been granted emergency use authorization, conspiracy theorists had already begun a huge anti-vax campaign with social media providing the platform for these theories to be spread at a pace that made it difficult to counter effectively. She noted that by the time they as health officials were armed with the requisite scientific data they were faced with the daunting task of convincing persons that vaccines in general were safe and effective, before they could even begin the conversation about the COVID-19 vaccines. Yet, they were able to make significant strides.
“In St. Kitts and Nevis we have managed to convince 79.4 % of adults in our population (which is 57.1 % of total population) to be vaccinated with at least one dose and 72.9 % of our adult population (which works out to 52% of entire population) with at least a second dose by November 17.This was achieved through a robust community campaign that commenced in February, and without the use of mandates.
The vaccine hesitancy proposal is costed at USD$3.1M ($3,182,000), with a funding gap of USD$2.3M ($2,346,388). Read more here: