Wednesday 30 September, 2020

Health Minister urges flu vaccination ahead of Carnival season

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is urging the public to get vaccinated against influenza as a spike in flu cases is expected during the Carnival season.

Speaking during a news conference at the Ministry's Park Street, Port of Spain headquarters on Saturday, Deyalsingh said the United States has registered 61,200 flu deaths in 2019.

He said with North American tourists coming to T&T for Carnival, the flu will likely spread rapidly locally. 

"If the population does not heed this warning we are going to have more deaths," he cautioned. 

Despite the Ministry's drive to promote vaccination, Deyalsingh said people are still hesitant. 

He said this was due to misconceptions and misinformation about the vaccine being spread by anti-vaxxers.

"We are fighting two fights, the virus and vaccine hesitancy amongst vulnerable groups," he lamented.

Giving an example, Deyalsingh said a doctor at the San Fernando General Hospital saw 38 elderly patients recently and when asked if they had ever been vaccinated against the flu, they all said no. 

He said these were people who come to the hospitals for other services but when offered the vaccine, they choose not to take it for whatever reason.

“Don’t get caught up in the anti-vaxxers talk. The vaccine is safe," he said.

Deyalsingh added that some people refuse to get the vaccine because they heard others saying they got it and still got the cold.

He stressed that the vaccine does not protect against the common cold, which is not as dangerous as the flu.

“Every year we have to say it. The influenza vaccine protects you against H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B. It does not protect you against the rhinoviruses or other viruses that cause the common cold. If we do not get the message across again and if the anti-vaxxers in our communities continue to be more successful than us, we are going to have a problem with Carnival.”

Thirty-seven people have died as a result of flu in 2019. 

Pan-American Health Organisation representative Erica Wheeler however said there is no need to panic. 

She said influenza is a global issue and the situation is being monitored.

"If there is any cause for panic, it is something we can be easily alerted to within a very short period of time because we have this information at our fingertips. Everything we have seen says, although there was an elevated number of deaths, it is still within the normal range and there is no need to panic."

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: