Misinformation fuelling vaccine hesitancy – PAHO Director

Pan American Health Organisation Director, Dr Carissa Etienne has branded misinformation as one of the most serious threats to public health, and it was especially damaging when it fuelled vaccine hesitancy.

Director of PAHO,
Dr Carissa Etienne

Speaking at a recent press briefing, she stated, “Every person in a vulnerable group that is hesitant to get the vaccine can become part of the sad statistics, one of the thousands of deaths that occur daily due to COVID-19. Vaccines are saving lives now and will contribute to control transmission in the near future when we achieve high immunisation coverage.”
According to her, reports of very rare, unexpected side effects from some COVID-19 vaccines should not make people hesitate to get immunised. Owing to the rate at which misinformation is spreading, PAHO has formed a collaboration with tech giants to provide accurate data on the pandemic.
“The vaccines delivered through COVAX have been thoroughly assessed by the WHO experts. The benefits of these vaccines in preventing infections, hospitalisations, and deaths outweigh the risks of side events…Because unreliable information spreads quickly, PAHO is collaborating with tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to address fake news and ensure the public can easily find accurate information,” Dr Etienne added.
She indicated that the tragic milestone of more than three million deaths from COVID, nearly half of them in the Americas was a reminder that more must be done to protect people. The virus continues to threaten lives, as seen in the Americas where more than 1.5 million new COVID cases and nearly 40,000 deaths were reported in one week.
“COVID vaccines don’t provide instant protection. Our bodies take time to build up immunity to the virus after we’re vaccinated, and we won’t see their full impact until more of us are protected. Let’s remember that with the limited doses available to us at this time, the priority should be to save lives. Stopping transmission of this disease requires additional measures.”
The PAHO Director added that, “in Israel, COVID-19 vaccines are already helping drive down infections, and initial data from Chile and some cities in Brazil indicate a reduction in hospitalisations among the elderly, thanks in part to COVID vaccines.”
Presently, PAHO is ramping up efforts to get as many vaccines to the Americas as quickly as possible. Thus far, over 4.2 million doses of COVID vaccines were delivered to 29 countries within the region. Millions of additional vaccines are due in the coming weeks.
But, she noted, “We need more COVID vaccines for our region. We need countries to quickly administer the doses they have on hand. We need communities to build trust in vaccines. And when it’s your turn to get vaccinated, remember: These vaccines can save your life.”
Vaccination Week in the Americas, which starts next week, “is a perfect time to remind us all of the power of vaccines to save lives,” Dr Etienne said. “Vaccinations are a collective effort and the success of immunisation campaigns depends on all of us.”