Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 25 January 2024 (PAHO/WHO) – More than three hundred nurses, midwives, and student health professionals participated in comprehensive COVID-19 capacity building as part of a nationwide program to counteract COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy within the general population and the healthcare system.
Trained to communicate effectively about the benefits and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, the healthcare professionals are expected to educate hundreds of others in their communities and medical facilities, helping to boost and promote vaccination against the disease.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) provided technical assistance for this risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) project, which was funded by the U.S. and Canadian Governments and directed at vulnerable and at-risk populations. Likewise, the program was implemented with the cooperation of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Health, five regional health authorities, nursing and midwifery professional associations, and three nursing schools.
The nurses, midwives, and student health professionals completed an expansive curriculum that covered vaccine hesitancy, COVID-19 vaccine safety, the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers, and other key topics. The curriculum adapted PAHO/World Health Organization (WHO) training materials for the Trinidad and Tobago context.
"We knew it was crucial to start by engaging healthcare professionals first with science-based information and communication guidance," said Dr. Erica Wheeler, the former PAHO/WHO Representative, who facilitated training on understanding vaccine hesitancy and the role of vaccination in public health. "They are uniquely positioned to model open conversations that influence demand for vaccination," she said.
The healthcare workers' training coincided with a series of four health fairs aimed at understanding and combatting vaccine hesitancy in small communities. The fairs, supported by PAHO/WHO and its partners, were held over four weeks in the community of San Juan in Northwest Trinidad and Tobago. The fairs attracted more than 1,200 persons and provided 757 persons with services such as health screening, vaccines, and psychosocial services. At-risk individuals and vulnerable populations living in poor socioeconomic conditions, including Venezuelan migrants, were targeted. Outreach workers from the Archdiocese Ministry for Migrants, who had received RCCE training, helped individuals access services available at the fairs and collected data from the participants.
Both the health fairs and training provided a vehicle for collecting data from the participants. Preliminary analysis of data collected at the health fairs suggests that while awareness of vaccines is prevalent, resistance to them is still pronounced. Preliminary analysis also indicates that the RCCE training can increase health workers’ confidence and commitment to advocating for immunization, laying the groundwork for enhanced vaccine acceptance.