Health and Science

WHO official pleads with Caribbean islanders to ‘wake up’ and get vaccinated

People walk through Old San Juan on March 21, 2021 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

A top World Health Organization official pleaded with people in the Caribbean on Wednesday to get vaccinated, saying the islands had limited ICU beds.

Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO's regional branch in Latin America, said the abundance of vaccine misinformation in the island region is making people hesitant to get the shots.

"I want to make a special appeal to my fellow Caribbean persons please, we have to be extremely careful," Etienne said. "We have limited bed capacity and limited ICU capacity in our small islands ... our health systems will become overwhelmed very quickly."

The health systems there could quickly become overburdened if more people don't get vaccinated, she said, noting that misinformation has spread across the islands.

She said the decision not to get vaccinated is "foolhardy," especially when hospital capacity is so limited.

"We are playing with our lives. So my appeal to you is, get up, wake up from that slumber, wake up from that dream, because we know that the vaccines are safe," Etienne said.

"I don't know the sources of the information that is triggering this level of vaccine hesitancy. I can tell you that they are not scientifically proven, and I want to appeal to you to listen to the sources where you have truthful, scientifically based information and evidence," Etienne said.

A relative of a Covid-19 patient queues to recharge oxygen tanks for their loved ones at the regional hospital in Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, Peru.

There have been some rare side effects from the vaccines that usually occur within a few weeks of immunization. Etienne said the side effects are being closely monitored by scientists "nationally, regionally and globally," and that actions are taken immediately if concerns arise. Every medication you take has side effects, "and you don't question them there," Etienne said.

"So please, please, please take your vaccines and please wear your mask properly and social distance," Etienne said. "I know we Caribbean people like to be close and we like to congregate," she said.

Etienne said despite the cultural inclination to congregate, people should maintain social distance, wash their hands and observe "respiratory etiquette."