COVID-19 has been in the phase of community transmission since February 2021, but the high transmissibility of the delta variant means that greater numbers of persons are now being affected, as predicted by the University of the West Indies models. Recent efforts to mitigate disease spread have included tightening of curfew restrictions, some reduction of indoor gathering and reinforcing mask-wearing, hand sanitization and physical distancing.
Vaccination is a key means of reducing transmission of the virus, however, we are keen to point out that a person is not considered to be maximally protected by vaccination until two weeks after the second dose. Therefore, we must play ‘catch-up’ as the rate of spread of the more transmissible variants is well ahead of the rate of double vaccination.
While every effort to encourage vaccination must continue, we must be careful not to polarize the population into vaccinated vs. unvaccinated but seek to research and quickly understand and address the underlying reasons for the ongoing vaccine hesitancy in the wider society. While these efforts are ongoing, we reiterate the call for consideration of a policy-driven mandate for vaccination of healthcare workers, which already has a precedent in practice. We believe that our weak, sick and elderly must be protected when seeking care from healthcare providers.
The tying of the lifting of social restrictions to the administration of an absolute number of vaccine doses should not be the only method used to determine whether or not we are doing enough to reduce the numbers becoming infected. Re-evaluation of set public health measures, after two weeks, should take into account many other factors, including the reporting of the true positivity rate in the community, which may be achieved by deducting those PCR tests done by travelers from the denominator. There is also a need to continue to consider the reporting of cumulative incidence, as a trigger for assessing the need for intensification of public health interventions. BAMP also continues to call for regular reporting of COVID variants through surveillance of community swabs and genetic sequencing.
In widespread community transmission, efforts at contact tracing are quickly overwhelmed. Therefore, a strategic plan for community surveillance with an educational campaign that clearly enunciates the policy-driven rationale for regular testing of frontline workers, hotspots and those in government institutions, should be urgently instituted.
We are currently witnessing the progressive dwindling of limited human and physical health resources. Rationalization of services that can be safely offered at public health institutions, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, is now a priority and patients must receive clear guidance for their next steps, lest we create a tsunami of NCDs and unintended consequences.
Finally, we must look at the dangerous misinformation being spread on the internet and on social media. Those who seek to denigrate the tireless and unstinting efforts of the healthcare workers of Barbados, should be ashamed of themselves. Our death rates have remained low because of the quality and excellence of the Barbadian health care system and the wonderful professionals who work within it.
BAMP salutes every public health practitioner, doctor, nurse, maid, pharmacist, orderly, clerk, administrative official and general worker in our health system and particularly those at the QEH, Harrisons Point, other Isolation Centres and Polyclinics. Our doctors and nurses are second to none and medicine is a noble and time- honored profession worthy of societal respect. We will not sit idly by while persons of no repute slander our distinguished medical professionals, and we ask these cowards, who hide behind the relative safety and anonymity of the internet, to immediately cease and desist and think about the damage that they are causing to society as a whole. To our medical professionals, we advise you to ignore the detractors and fight on, continue to do all you can in the face of this deadly enemy called COVID-19. Always remember why you chose to care and the many patients and relatives who are thankful that their lives have been touched and enriched by all you do.
BAMP believes it is time for the Barbadian government and regional governments to look collectively at the dangers of health misinformation as a threat to public health that is as dangerous as the COVID-19 pandemic. We must consider taking steps to enact legislation that will prohibit people from making false and misleading health claims in any form of media, without providing extensive supporting evidence.
Dr. Lynda Williams
For BAMP COVID-19 Task Force