Vaccine hesitancy made health-care workers think COVID-19 battle was lost
Mitchelle Maylor-Orchat, coordinator for medical technology services at National Laboratory Services, speaking at last week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

Facing the brunt of it all, health-care workers felt as though they were fighting a losing battle during the peak of the novel coronavirus pandemic when Jamaica began its vaccination programme and many people publicly opposed the vaccine, citing unscientific reasons.

But, as explained by Mitchelle Maylor-Orchat, coordinator for medical technology services at National Laboratory Services, there were some local scientists who declared themselves as anti-vaxxers as well.

“Normally, to work in the lab, there are some vaccines that you must have, because yearly we would have our vaccine programmes. So, we ensure that our staff is fully immunised in order to work in the lab. But when we heard about the COVID-19 vaccine, believe it or not, within our group, we had, and I believe we still do, anti-vaxxers. And for me that was an eye-opener. It is surprising that as scientists, they would want to listen to persons who are not scientists,” Maylor-Orchat told Jamaica Observer editors and reporters during the newspaper’s Monday Exchange last week ahead of activities planned by the health ministry to mark Healthcare Workers Appreciation Month in July.

Maylor-Orchat added that generally, there’s still a low take-up now of the COVID-19 vaccines which is a point of concern.

“We are just hoping and praying that people fully understand how vaccines work and get rid of the fear,” she said, noting that concern also extends to team members.

“The lab and medical technologists are concerned. I find it pretty alarming because we do know and we understand how vaccines work. We do know how to verify the efficacy of it, so, to find out that people who are knowledgeable and know how this thing works are saying that they are anti-vaxxers, it’s very alarming. I just don’t get it,” she said.

Speaking with a group of health-care professionals at the James Hill Health Centre in Clarendon on October 21 last year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said health-care workers have a duty to be “examples” and urged them to get vaccinated.

“I urge you, being on the frontline, being almost directly exposed at great risk to yourself, that you consider getting vaccinated,” he said.

Further, in March, independent public policy think tank Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) said a study revealed that the anaemic response to vaccine take-up resulted from a high rate of distrust, both in the administration and the vaccine.

CaPRI had launched the report titled ‘Long shot,’ on Thursday, March 10, which explored the reasons behind the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Jamaica, and involved a cross-sectional sample of 1,170 participants across the island.

Maylor-Orchat said she went on the first day vaccines were available to get hers, and has since received the booster.

“And this, I try to use each time to encourage them that here I am and I am leading from the front…there is nothing to be afraid of and we have to protect ourselves.”

She said there was a period when staff members started getting infected, and there was worry about what would happen if key team members fell ill and had to be isolated. She said a part of the concern was how they would protect themselves to prevent infection, so they could continue getting out tests results to Jamaica.

“We were happy when we heard about the vaccine and some of us went and got ourselves vaccinated,” she said.

But while there was frustration from the general population and staff members, Maylor-Orchat went home to similar issues.

“Even within my family, I had that. When they wanted to get students back in the classrooms and children were able to be vaccinated, I had to have deep discussions with my 15-year-old son’s father in order to get him (son) vaccinated,” she recalled.

“I had to get the information to my son himself for him to read and understand because his dad was adamant that he is not to take the vaccine, and that it was a trick. It might sound a little bit harsh, but I did have to say to my son, ‘Remember now, he is not the scientist here, so you can’t take information from him.’ I had to,” she shared.

Romardo Lyons

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