Days after making her maiden appearance in the Upper House of Parliament, Opposition Senator and Businesswoman, Rolanda Mc Queen, called out the New National Party (NNP) government of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell on its approach towards addressing the controversial issue of vaccine reluctance among Grenadians amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In light of the ongoing raging debate on the pros and cons of COVID-19 vaccines, “riddled with fear, mistrust, and lack of clear factual information,” Sen. Mc Queen called a press conference in St. George’s on Tuesday, citing a need for more to be done to address the fears of those who are hesitant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the only COVID-19 vaccine that is available on island, and is being touted as the means of getting the country back to some form of normalcy.
Since the Ministry of Health commenced its vaccination drive last February, just over 20, 000 persons have taken the first dose of AstraZeneca, while over 15, 000 have received the second dose, out of a population of just over 110, 000.
Sen. Mc Queen has attributed Grenadians reluctance to take the vaccine to their “awareness of a long history of being disrespected, mistreated and, violated (and) medical experimentation that makes us suspicious.”
She also issued a call for “medical experts to be deployed across the country in all communities, to speak with the people (and) address their fears, concerns, and a desperate need for clarity,” instead of “politicians playing games with the minds of people.”
The female senator expressed horrification with the quality of discussions on the issue of vaccination conducted during a recent sitting of the Upper House of Parliament, which saw the approval of a bill to cancel Carnival for the second consecutive year, due to coronavirus concerns.
“The issue of vaccination came up for debate (during the last sitting of the Senate), and I was horrified at the quality of debate, which appeared to me, to be an extension of the general lack of compassion, and respect with (the manner in) which (the) health officials, and the government have tackled the matter of getting 70% of the population vaccinated,” she told reporters.
”When state officials turn to conversations (and) suggestions that those who spread information on the negative aspect of vaccination (that they) should be charged with treason, or suggest that Grenadians are stupid, and lack common sense, then we are obviously not treating the people with respect and compassion,” she said.
Sen. Mc Queen, who disclosed that she is fully vaccinated but was also “skeptical about taking the vaccine,” due to a lack of information, argued that “when the government itself appears suspicious in its approach (to vaccination), and (there are) rumours circulating that not all government ministers have taken the vaccine, then the conspiracy theories will find fertile ground in the peoples’ fear, and mistrust.”
She stated that “in our haste to reopen the country fully, let us not forget that Grenada exists for its citizens,” and warned that “true cooperation, and involvement of the citizens does not come from fear or bullying.”
The freshman Senator shared Monday’s platform with her cousin, Dr. Kenneth Robert, MD, who is a Family Medicine Specialist in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina in the United States, and took questions from members of the media, and the general public, on issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccination.
Dr. Robert, who is currently vacationing on island, used the opportunity to share his experiences dealing with COVID-19, and how the issues of doubt, and fear of being vaccinated were addressed in his community.
Acknowledging that “many people feel concerned that the vaccines were developed kind of quickly (and that) many hear a lot of different things, especially on social media that cause doubt, and fear,” Dr. Roberts, who is a Regional Medical Director at the Halifax Regional Medical Center, echoed Sen. Mc Queens sentiments, pointing out that “a lot of what was being said on social media, and double talk from politicians, often, in the United States (has) led to a lot of mistrust (among people).”
He noted that “in North Carolina, how we have combatted this was simply by healthcare professionals, getting out, and speaking to the people, letting them know what the truth of COVID is, and really get down to why should people get vaccinated,” adding that when he was approached by Sen. Mc Queen to speak on the issue of vaccination on Monday, he agreed because being a son of the soil, he saw the need to create more COVID-19 vaccination awareness among the population.
The medical doctor, who is originally from Munich in St. Andrew, reiterated that “the issue of COVID- 19, and vaccination against COVID is not a political one,” and expressed the view that because “this is a health issue, as such your answers, if you have questions, should come from health care professionals.”
“I said, yes, it makes sense to speak to people and try to kind of dispel some of the myths that are out there about COVID-19 and the vaccine, and if just a few people would just listen, and say hey, this makes sense, then I think we would have accomplished something good,” Dr. Robert said.
The Family Medicine Specialist commended the Grenadian government, and the health department for its “remarkable and heroic” response to the coronavirus health crisis, and expressed support for the measures that are being taken to keep the coronavirus at bay.
However, Dr. Robert is of the view that although the measures that have been taken here have worked, “they are not measures that were designed to be carried out for a long-term period.”
Speaking on the importance of community physicians taking up the mantle “in this whole vaccination drive,” Dr. Robert warned that a massive COVID-19 outbreak in Grenada would be significantly devastating to the country.
“What we have found (in North Carolina) is that if we could recruit patients’ physicians, and get them to be the ones who (are) out there speaking about the safety of vaccines, and all of that, it makes a serious difference…”
“…I think it’s important to ask the questions to (those) who have the correct answers (and) I think that if it’s not happening here already, to have community forums, where you have community physicians addressing the people about COVID-19, and the vaccine. Many of my patients refused to take the vaccine until they (had) spoken to me,” added Dr. Robert, who oversees over 300, 000 people in the Roanoke Rapids county.