By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ACTING Chief Medical Officer Dr Phillip Swann said officials are making final arrangements to facilitate the administration of paediatric vaccines in schools to help increase vaccinations among children.
Dr Swann said parents will be able to receive their vaccination consent letters in the next two weeks.
“So, once we have an indication from the children or parents of children at school that they want their children to receive the vaccine, then we will put a schedule together and send a team to vaccinate those children whose parents have requested that they receive the vaccine in school and I think the measure or the mandate is requesting that the guardian or parent be present during that time,” he said during a press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday.
Currently, children aged five to 11, are eligible to receive the paediatric Pfizer vaccines in the country.
In a recent interview with The Tribune, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville said there were about 700 doses that had been administered to children at last report. He also admitted that vaccination rates among the group have not been going as well as officials had anticipated.
Yesterday, Dr Swann said while the uptake among children was still being determined, there was an overall concern about the slow vaccination pace in the country.
“We do remain concerned about the rate of vaccination and the fact that week over week, the numbers of newly vaccinated individuals are trending between 150 to 200 over the past two reporting periods and fully vaccinated increasing by an hour to 250 persons each week during the same period,” he added.
“Paediatric vaccines remain available and although the uptake is still being weighed as to the success in the past five weeks, final arrangements are being made to facilitate the delivery of vaccines in school settings and we hope to have letters to parents and guardians to grant consent within the next two weeks.
“The public is reminded that although the numbers of reported cases are not alarming, we are still in a declared pandemic and persons are still contracting COVID-19 infection and in some cases still dying from it – so we encourage you to get vaccinated.”
The push for vaccinations comes as the country moves away from such COVID-19 restrictions as mask wearing among other measures.
Yesterday, Dr Swann addressed health officials’ decision to recommend further relaxations to the country’s mask mandates, saying the rationale behind the move was generally based on the need for residents to exercise personal responsibility.
He also said adherence to the mask mandates was “less than acceptable,” something he suggested was discussed in the health advisory committee’s meetings when reviewing the protocol.
“Despite this, however, we know there has been no increase in cases of COVID-19 recorded and hospitalisations also remained low and vaccination campaigns have not had the expected results despite the funds expended to research on human behaviour undertaken and the various approaches to increase uptake,” he also said.
“Whereby as a result of the foregoing, the determination was taken to relax the wearing of masks in some settings with the understanding that if there is a need to reinstitute the measure the recommendations to do so will return.”
The acting CMO also explained why officials recommended that masks still be worn in healthcare facilities, senior care homes and classroom settings.
“In healthcare facilities, health care workers and system users are to maintain the use of masks at all times to ensure that the vulnerable are protected. This has been the case in most healthcare settings prior to COVID and persons with a cough when provided with a mask or isolated from other persons and spaces in a clinic setting or health setting,” Dr Swann said.
“In education institutions, the mask mandate for school or education institutions was also retained for in class settings and these are some of the reasons why we maintained that posture.
“There were reports of increased cases of influenza-like illnesses and not determined to be COVID- 19 in one or two schools that required the need for additional action of caution. There are no other settings where individuals are in such close proximity to multiple fixed periods of time, 60 or 90 minutes a day in closed settings.
“The vaccination levels among school aged children are among the lowest. I wouldn’t even say sub optimal.
“They’re just the lowest and the same can be said to some extent to groups that work with them and there are some challenges with parents adhering to protocols of taking children for testing when they presented symptoms of an influenza-like illness.”
In respect to mask wearing in long-term residential facilities, Dr Swann said recommendations were made for workers to still abide by the protocol because “most of the residents in those facilities are immune compromised, and some of them do not actually (or) are not able to wear the masks.”
Asked yesterday about penalties for non-compliant people and how they will be policed, the acting CMO replied: “We have I think, for the most part, have not everywhere removed or recommended the removal of any fines associated with the non-wearing of masks and you would imagine that if you go to a healthcare facility, then you won’t be able to get inside unless you have a mask on.
“And in school settings, of course, it’s expected to be policed by the school system – again, it’s about your safety or the safety of those you who walk in contact with.”