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Dr. Noel: Vaccine reluctance can lead to another outbreak of COVID-19

Dr. Dolland Noel - Head of the COVID-19 Medical Response Team

Although the number of active COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate within the tri-island state has significantly decreased within the last three (3) weeks, health officials on Tuesday warned that there could be another outbreak soon if the vaccination levels in the country remain low.

Head of the COVID-19 Medical Response Team and the doctor in charge of Internal Medicine at the St. George’s General Hospital, Dr. Dolland Noel issued this warning during the weekly post-cabinet media briefing Tuesday in St. George’s, reiterating the clarion call for persons to come forward and get vaccinated.

“Please do not become complacent and say that our positivity rate is going down because if you let your guard down you put us at risk for another wave…,” he told reporters.

He said that with 66% of the population unvaccinated “we are still very much a vulnerable population…we are still at risk of getting surges.”

“…It’s quite possible in the near future, if our vaccination rate remains low we can have another outbreak of COVID-19 (so) we have to continue to take all the precautions to prevent another surge and the comorbidities that would come with that surge as well,” he added.

The Ministry of Health started its vaccination drive in February last year with the hope of being able to vaccinate at least 70% of the population to achieve herd immunity.

However, eighteen months later only 27, 513 individuals from a population of about 110, 000 have been fully vaccinated, while 8, 784, have taken the first of two (2) jabs.

Tuesday’s media briefing revealed that the average test positivity rate since the August spike in cases, dropped significantly to 7.6% between October 5 – October 11, compared to 17.9% recorded during the week of September 21st – September 27.

Dr. Noel disclosed that as the COVID-19 situation in the country improves, there has been a decline over the last three (3) weeks in the number of persons coming forward to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

He urged the population to take advantage of the “opportunity to prep our immune system (by taking the vaccine) to make antibodies so that if we do encounter COVID-19, we have some neutralising antibodies to fight the virus.”

When probed, the Head of COVID-19 Medical Response Team was not in a position to address exactly how long immunity would last after taking the COVID-19 vaccine but explained that “we have to rely on the clinical trials done in other countries.”

“There were studies that show that people from the UK (United Kingdom) cohort who got AstraZeneca in December 2020, are still showing immunity…we have heard of countries like Israel that thought it necessary to give their population a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine, and it (the booster shot) is approved in several other countries for the Pfizer vaccine.

“It’s very early in the game – we don’t know how long immunity will last but we know immunity will last for quite a few months (for the) AstraZeneca (vaccine) I can tell you, immunity last beyond eight (8) months…as for the Pfizer, beyond six (6) months, we don’t know if a booster will be required.

“We just have to wait and see for the clinical trials to tell us…but I must say that there are countries where people are given the Pfizer booster after six (6) months or so.

Dr. Noel also acknowledged that “people worry about (getting blood) clots (after taking the vaccine),” but pointed out that the “COVID-19 infection gives you much more clots, venous and arterial thrombosis than the vaccine, and that (this) can be fatal in COVID-19.”

With vaccination being pushed as the only means to get the country back to normalcy, and the imposition of the Keith Mitchell-led government’s vaccine mandate for access to certain businesses on the island as part of new COVID-19 regulations, it is also important to note that fully vaccinated individuals can still contract and spread the deadly virus.

Acting Director of Medical Services, Dr. Tyhiesia Donald who also addressed the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing told reporters that “transmission is reduced if you are fully vaccinated.”

“Vaccination continues to be the best way to prevent severe illness and hospitalisation for patients with COVID-19. Let us all get vaxed, it is still our best shot in preventing severe illness, and hospitalisation, and it also helps to decrease the curve,” she said.

“The only how this curve can flatten is almost totally dependent on us, at least just wearing your masks properly can help to prevent another spike. So, let us all follow the guidelines.

Dr. Donald made another plea for persons to come forward and take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Grenada has recorded just over 5500 Covid-19 cases over a 17-month period and administered in excess of 63,000 vaccines.