STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE MARLON A. PENN
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
EIGHTH SITTING OF THE FOURTH SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
TUESDAY, 15th NOVEMBER 2022
Protection against COVID-19 and Other Infectious Diseases
Madam Speaker, the Ministry of Health and Social Development continues to monitor regional and global health trends that could impact the Virgin Islands, and is pleased to note that current statistics show a significant reduction in the transmission and impact of COVID-19 worldwide. Recent reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate considerably lower rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths compared to 2021 and the beginning of 2022. However, there have been increasing numbers of new COVID-19 infections and deaths observed in specific countries – namely, the United States of America, Russia, and Brazil. Regionally, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has reported very marginal increases in COVID-19 related deaths and cases among its member states. However, it is important interpret the current trends cautiously, as most countries have seen an overall decrease in testing. After almost two years of strict public health measures, most countries have returned to normal operations and pre-pandemic behaviours and activities.
Here in the Virgin Islands, COVID-19 is now very rarely detected by laboratories, given that severe infection and hospitalization rates are currently low, travel testing requirements have been relaxed, and home test kits have been available locally for some time. Despite these encouraging trends, Madam Speaker, the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to circulate in the Territory, along with other respiratory viruses, such as Influenza, and RSV (Respiratory Syn-cy-tial Virus), which individually or collectively, could have serious health implications for vulnerable persons.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased that both COVID-19 and Influenza vaccines remain available at the BVI Health Services Authority through its Primary Care Clinics. We expect to receive a final shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday of this week, under the terms of a revised Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Health Security Agency and the Government of the Virgin Islands. This new shipment will include pediatric doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for children ages 5 and older, as well as doses of Pfizer’s bivalent vaccine, which provides enhanced protection against the Omicron variant along with the original strain.
I once again urge persons, especially those at higher risk, including persons over 65 years of age and those with chronic diseases, to seriously consider vaccination and boosters to increase your level of protection.
Madam Speaker, I want to emphasize that we should take steps to prevent the spread of viral infections. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts a very active Influenza season, which will be complicated by a concurrent seasonal increase in both COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections such as RSV, which also causes flu-like symptoms. This situation has the potential to cause higher than normal disease burden and impacts in the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean Region, given our very close ties to the United States and increases in visitor traffic during the tourism season.
It is therefore important, Madam Speaker, for persons in our community, particularly those that are vulnerable, to take enhanced precautions to reduce their risk of infection, and the potential for any serious effects and complications of respiratory diseases. Along with proper nutrition and other healthy lifestyle choices, everyone should to continue to make use of enhanced personal protection measures, such as hand washing, covering your cough, using face coverings where appropriate, and vaccination.
Madam Speaker, while addressing the important topic of vaccination, I must also draw attention to the troubling resurgence of some vaccine-preventable diseases in various regions of the world. The WHO has recognized, since earlier this year, increases in rates of diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, polio, meningitis, mumps, tetanus, tuberculosis and yellow fever. The re-emergence of these serious diseases is associated with vaccine hesitancy, resource shortages, and the disruptions of vaccination schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in vaccination coverage is also being observed in the Latin America and the Caribbean, which could easily lead to outbreaks of serious vaccine-preventable diseases among children and adults in our communities if this trend is not reversed.
Madam Speaker, this concerning situation was a topic of discussion during the recently concluded 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference, which I attended in September in Washington, D.C., where Member States were urged to strengthen their immunization programmes to increase the levels of protection against all vaccine-preventable diseases.
In this vein, Madam Speaker, I close by once again encouraging persons of all ages who are eligible, to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Influenza and all recommended vaccine-preventable diseases. I especially urge all parents to ensure that their children’s vaccination status is up-to-date and kept up-to-date. We all have an important part to play in protecting ourselves and others from communicable diseases.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.