Health experts answer questions on vaccine | THE DAILY HERALD

Panellists in Tuesday’s discussion.

PHILIPSBURG–A team of health experts answered many questions from the public about the COVID-19 vaccine during the COVID-19 vaccination panel discussion held via a Facebook Livestream on Tuesday evening.

  Three months into the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, approximately 30 per cent of the population has been vaccinated, but 85 per cent of all eligible persons need to be vaccinated to create herd immunity, it was noted during the panel discussion.

  A lot of new developments have taken place since the start of the campaign. There are new COVID-19 strains, travel has resumed again under certain circumstances and a lot of new research has been done that provides new insights into both the COVID-19 virus and the vaccines. These new developments, however, also bring further questions and concerns.

  This seemed to be the case in St. Maarten, too, considering the many well-prepared questions sent in, posted live, and answered by the experts. 

  Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley officially opened and closed the panel discussion, and the host for the evening was Roylyka Roache of Department of Communication (DComm).

  The guests were VSA Ministry epidemiologist  and Collective Prevention Services (CPS) head Eva Lista-de Weever; White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation (WYCCF) quality nurse Claudette Rijff; Dr. Anand Raghosing, a general practitioner on the island; and Red Cross Blood Bank Foundation medical Immunologist and Director Dr. A.J. Duits. 

  After the opening remarks by Ottley, the panel discussion started with a small presentation given by Lista-de Weever and Dr. Duits. Lista-de Weever first gave a status update on the vaccination campaign. She explained the current figures, where people can come for their vaccines, and the upcoming pop-up locations. Dr. Duits gave a brief explanation of how vaccines work, the mRNA vaccines, and their safety and efficacy.

  The audience was well prepared and sent in 18 questions in advance.

  Dr. Duits, being a specialist in immunology and vaccines, answered most of the technical questions.

  He explained why the Pfizer vaccine is currently the best one on the market with an effectiveness of 95 per cent, an extremely high level of protection. This also put into context why a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and wearing a mask are still required even after being fully vaccinated, because there is still a very minimal chance of getting infected.

  However, he said the good news is that in the rare case that persons are infected, the vaccine protects them against the severe symptoms of COVID-19. Additionally, countries like Israel and Saba, which have very high vaccination numbers, show that the vaccine is an excellent tool to fight this pandemic and go back to normalcy.

  Rijff, who currently works at Belair Community Center during the vaccination campaign, answered several questions on how persons at the vaccination location had experienced the situation and what the staff can do for people who are afraid of needles.

  Dr. Raghosing replied to many questions from the audience about people’s specific medical conditions and comforted many by explaining that, according to the latest research, “we can soon expect the eligible age to reduce to 16 and that pregnant women will also become eligible for the vaccine.”

  Lista-de Weever answered the more practical questions. She explained the procedure of different tests being conducted and explained that it is likely that persons will be able to travel again in the near future when fully vaccinated. 

  There were almost 150 live viewers, and many were active in the comment section, with a total of 134 comments. While the event was set to end at 8:00pm, the live viewers kept posting relevant questions, so the panel decided to continue for another 30 minutes.

  Eight questions from the live comments were answered. One of these questions was, “Why would we naturally take the vaccine while we get natural antibodies from contracting COVID-19?” Dr. Duits explained that while persons do get some antibodies from natural contamination, the number of antibodies is far lower than the vaccine’s protection. 

  Roache thanked the audience for their questions and the guests for their valuable information, and informed the viewers and listeners that in case they had forgotten to answer any questions, they could always email them to

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  The panel discussion is still available via the Government Facebook page for persons who may have missed the event on Tuesday evening.

Source: The Daily Herald