Misrepresentation of adverse reactions to vaccines, a cause of vaccine hesitancy.

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Vaccine hesitant persons want more transparency in the reporting of adverse side effects from the Covid-19 vaccines. That was one of the points raised by at least two persons who spoke during the “No Child Left behind” Zoom session that was organised by the Concerned Parents Movement TT and attended by the health ministry.

In a Zoom crowd composed of activists, parents, doctors, and two officials representing the health ministry, activist Lyndon Mack questioned why the ministry failed to use the Yellow Card Monitoring system or the World Health Organisation’s(WHO) International Drug Monitoring approach. He asked: “Why haven’t the ministry provided such a system to the public so persons can see the information of persons who have had adverse reactions in order for them to make a more informed decision before taking the vaccine.”

A search on google revealed that the Yellow card monitoring system is a website used in various countries including the United Kingdom. It reports suspected side effects of medicines and vaccines or medical devices and diagnostic adverse incidents and in this case, those used to treat Covid-19. Similarly, the WHO International Drug Monitoring programme or “pharmacovigilance (PV) is defined as the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding, and prevention of adverse effects or any other drug-related problem.”

In her response, the County Medical Officer of Health for County Caroni, Jeanine St. Bernard answered the activist by saying that the health ministry had taken a different approach. She stated: “With regards to fact sheets, I do not know that fact sheets are being provided by the government.” She said that the approach that the health ministry used to inform citizens throughout the pandemic had been daily media conferences. “Where the minister of health would have been accompanied by the Chief Medical Officer, as well as, the technical director of the epidemiology division, Dr. Hinds and literally they would present data.” She said.

Also, she pointed to the ministry of health’s website saying, “The ministry of health’s website does have resources and information and what we have been providing now is the datasheet where you get a summary of active cases, hospitalisations, discharges, and so on. However, she did agree that she could raise the concern with her colleagues at the health ministry regarding the uploading of data that would state the number of persons who may have had adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Additionally, Dr. Josanne Paul, Head of Pediatrics chipped in and noted that it was also a case of confidentiality that the data would not be provided; however, she did state that in the case of children all the adverse side effects were mild. According to her, not one child after taking the vaccine was troubled with pericarditis or myocarditis. She said some children only experienced anxiety-related incidences.

However, a doctor who was present at the Zoom session countered that it would be difficult for Dr. Paul to say with certainty that no one had been affected by the vaccine since the ministry does not have any sensitive method to assess this. He suggested that the ministry should have a system where persons could voluntarily self-report adverse side effects and explained: “If you depend on the medical professionals to find and identify all the cases you are going to miss enormous amounts of information.” He stated: “The reason all the other systems of that nature are self-reporting is that a report does not prove that the vaccine has caused the outcome but it gives a very good sense of what people are experiencing so you will be able to identify that there are things that need investigation.”

The doctor also noted that the online reporting form advertised by the Caribbean Public Health Agency(CARPHA) is not known to the general public and even some health practitioners and therefore he is concerned that the health ministry does not have good representative data out of the CARPHA database. He also said: “I also know of individuals who experienced adverse effects and attempted to report it to their appropriate medical authority and were essentially pushed back and told you cannot prove that this is the vaccine.”

At that point, Dr. Paul was the lone health official present after Dr. St. Bernard had mysteriously left the dialogue. She noted the point made by the doctor in the audience would be passed on to the CMO. However, she disagreed that the CARPHA database was unknown to health officials but was told by the doctor that the form was not on the health ministry’s website. However, while she agreed with the doctor that more self-reporting of adverse side effects was needed she maintained that the medical screening was also necessary.

According to a Yellow Card website published by the UK government: “As of 22 September 2021, for the UK, 117,297 Yellow Cards have been reported for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 233,242 have been reported for the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, 16,361 for the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna and 1,101 have been reported where the brand of the vaccine was not specified.”

However, the website goes on to say that these Yellow Cards are between 3 to 6 per every 1000 doses administered.