Montserrat’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharra Greenaway-Duberry says emerging data is making the case for a reduced quarantine period for vaccinated travellers.
She was speaking on ZJB’s The Breakfast Show with Host Basil Chambers. The CMO was accompanied by Professor Ian Cummings, UK Ambassador for Health Care to the Overseas Territories, who has been on island with a colleague to look at the island’s health service and to share information which they hope will encourage more people to be vaccinated.
The CMO said new data has shown that people who have been fully vaccinated are 100% unlikely to be severely affected by COVID-19, even in cases when they are reinfected. She said the new data also shows that the likelihood of reinfection is quite low for people who have been vaccinated. Dr. Greenaway-Duberry said the new reports will be shared with government officials who make the final decisions on quarantine periods. Changing the current quarantine protocols however, go hand in hand with more residents being vaccinated to reduce the chance of a new outbreak.
Currently, vaccinated travellers must spend 10 days in quarantine after which they must be tested. Unvaccinated travellers continue to have a 14-day quarantine period.
Taking questions from the radio audience, both physicians worked to dispel rumours and concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine which is available on island. There has been a slow uptake of the vaccine, with the island donating 500 doses to Anguilla to avoid wasting the vital resource before it reached its May 31 end life.
Last week, the CMO said 1344 residents have received their first dose of the vaccine and 1106 their second dose. To date, 24.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The goal is to get local numbers to a minimum of 70%, says Professor Cummings. Herd immunity was the safest way to protect the population and reduce spread of the virus.
The physician, who works for Public Health England is currently visiting British OTs in the region, particularly those with low uptake of the vaccine. Cummings referenced Anguilla’s recent outbreak in which more than 100 people contracted the virus. This led to a rush for residents to be vaccinated. To date, more than 83% of the eligible residents there have been vaccinated.
The professor urged residents to be vaccinated. “We don’t need to have an outbreak to convince people they need to take the vaccine. COVID-19 is not going away.”
Dr. Greenaway-Duberry said one of the reasons given by residents for not wanting to be vaccinated is the perception of low risk of catching COVID-19. “Montserrat has had 20 cases and our borders are essentially closed,” she said. “There is a perceived low risk of importation.”
The CMO said people are still arriving on island daily and everyone coming in poses a risk of importing COVID 19. “If we don’t maintain protocols then you can have spread,” she added.
There is concern also that the variants from UK – Kent, India, South Africa, Brazil can be imported. These variants, both physicians agreed come with a higher risk of morbidity (how ill you are) and higher risk of death. This is why more residents need to be vaccinated as it reduces the chances of being severely ill from COVID-19 or transmitting the virus by up to 90%.
“Our borders cannot remain closed forever. We have to restart our economy,” the CMO urged. “People are suffering. We know how fragile our health care system is. Why would you not want to help us help each other?”
The doctors said taking the vaccine is the primary measure which every resident can take to fight the virus. Hand washing, wearing masks and social distance are secondary measures.
Professor Cummings, who was also responsible for leading Gibraltar’s COVID-19 response, said Montserrat has had a mixture of good fortune and good management during the outbreak. “Tragically, we were seeing tens of people die from the disease in Gibraltar. Only way to develop an immunity to the disease is to be exposed to the virus or through the vaccine.”
“In health care we quite often replace one risk with another. There is a very small risk associated with the vaccine as with all vaccines. In the UK, 34 million doses have been administered and 32 people died from a blood clot associated with the vaccine,” shared Cummings.
The risk from women taking the contraceptive pill is much higher than with the vaccine. You are 200 times more likely to die from COVID if you are 55 and over than from the COVID vaccine, said the doctor.
While on island, the Public Health England team were also on hand to witness the commissioning of the new laboratory on Wednesday afternoon, to handle increased PCR test loads. This increased capacity is welcomed, said officials, as it can be expanded to accommodate other types of testing as needed.
Residents are encouraged to visit any of the local health centres to speak to a nurse about being vaccinated. Being vaccinated is a measure to protect not only the individual but their family and the wider population.
Listen to the full interview here: https://montserratradioecho.wordpress.com/2021/06/02/wednesday-june-2-2021-basil-speaks-with-chief-medical-officer-dr-sharra-greenway-duberry-and-professor-ian-cumming-of-public-health-england/