If you passed by Swift Hall or Central Health Region clinics today, you probably noticed some long lines. This follows Wednesday’s announcement by the Government of Belize that persons eighteen years old and over are now eligible to receive their COVID-19 jabs.  And the mandate that frontline workers only have thirty days to get their jab or start submitting negative COVID tests.  It’s part of a countrywide push by the Ministry of Health and Wellness that includes a new campaign launched.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano was out in Belize City today, talking with those who got vaccinated.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Since eight o‘clock this morning, there has been a surge in the number of persons lining up to get inoculated.  Across the country, there is a concerted effort to get as many residents vaccinated against COVID-19.    The push comes hard on the heels of an announcement made by the Ministry of Health and Wellness on Wednesday.  Here in Belize City, vaccine centers, including Swift Hall, have been overflowing.

Mariseli Soberanis, Counselor, Wesley College

“It is each person’s conscious decision that they have to do their own research and so I don’t feel pressured by anyone to get vaccinated, but I feel that it is important especially with the daily interactions, you know.  For me, being at a school with a population of seven hundred and fifty students, it is important for me to be safe and also for the students who are under eighteen that I am safe working with them.”

It’s a similar sentiment being shared by Juliet Ramirez, a primary school teacher at St. Joseph.  Notwithstanding government’s position, Ramirez has done a very basic cost-benefit analysis.  It is easier to get vaccinated for free, than having to produce a negative COVID test every two weeks which can be quite costly.

Juliet Ramirez, Teacher, St. Joseph School

“This is my second vaccination and I agree that teachers need to be fully vaccinated; not only for us, for our colleagues, our administration and also for the children.  And I believe that if a teacher is fully vaccinated, the parents would feel more comfortable sending their children to the class.  Also, when it comes to taking the PCR every two weeks, I believe that getting the two vaccines is much cheaper and also, if you have to take the PCR every two weeks you would need to take time off from your work, and so I think it’s better that you get yourself fully vaccinated.”

Also getting his second jab was podcaster Brent Toombs.  After waiting in line for forty minutes, he was given another dose of the AstraZeneca serum.

Brent Toombs, Podcaster

“Hopefully, what we see today with, you know, increased traffic at the vaccine centers is going to continue but it also means that the Ministry of Health and Wellness is going to have to adjust how they administer the vaccine because we don’t want lineups like this to become a detriment to people coming out.  And I think also, [that] employers are going to have to consider accommodating their employees.  If someone wants or needs to take time off work because you can only get the vaccine really during business hours, that they should be accommodating that almost like an election, where somebody is allowed to be away from work for this purpose.”

For Mariseli Soberanis, who brought her aging mother to get vaccinated, it is a decision that the entire family has taken.

Mariseli Soberanis

“It’s very simple and it’s very easy, you know, we’re not new to vaccines.  My daughter who is four, you know, we’ve done it several times over a lifetime.  So we’re used to getting vaccinated and I know because of this it’s new for everyone to get this new vaccine, so that’s why it’s the nervousness because it hasn’t been around long enough as people have said, but it’s a very simple and easy process.”

With all the talk about vaccine hesitancy, we asked Toombs for his take on the general doubtfulness.

Brent Toombs

“So I haven’t had a lot discussion with people who are vaccine hesitant other than just maybe anonymous, you know, random Facebook posts.  But, you know, my group of friends and the people that I am close to and regularly communicate, everybody seems to be on the same page which I guess is okay, but we do need a wider dialogue, I think, with people and bringing in the vaccine hesitant people together in the same forum with people that are not adverse to getting vaccinated and talk it out and figure out why people are adverse.”

Numbers are Up as Belizeans Turn Out for COVID Vaccine

While it seems that there were indeed lines at vaccine centers today, the Deputy Regional Manager for the Central Health Region, Doctor Melissa Diaz-Musa gave News Five some numbers for comparison.  She says although people have been coming in steadily for their vaccinations under the phased system which begun in March, this week there has been a marked increase.

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Deputy Regional Manager, Central Health Region

“In the Belize District we would usually give about four hundred to five hundred doses of vaccines daily; we have noticed a shift to about seven hundred to eight hundred doses, so we do know that people are coming in. Especially today, we have noticed a significant increase in persons coming to get the COVID-19 vaccination.”

Karla Heusner

“Would you say that is due to the launch push yesterday or are people afraid of the Delta, or…? What do you think is causing today’s spike?”

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa

“Well, I think it’s a combination of things. When we originally started the campaign it was mainly geared to health care workers and persons over sixty, and persons with special conditions. We felt that that was successful. But we do know that human nature, and in many instances people wait to see the reactions, they don’t necessarily want to be among the first groups of people who have gotten the vaccine. And I think that as the weeks have gone by, and more and more people are coming in persons who are waiting and watching, or persons who have some hesitancy, some of these fears have been abated. By seeing the number of people coming in.”

Karla Heusner

“Are you seeing a difference in second dose? I mean, are people coming for that?”

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa

“Yes, yes. The second dose, we have been very successful. A lot of people who come in for the first dose are now coming in for the second dose. Remember, there are a slight.. there is a three month… Initially we were given twelve weeks for the second dose. We are now encouraging people to come in between eight and twelve weeks. Especially for our front line persons, high risk persons, once you have passed eight weeks from your first dose, please come in to get your second dose.”

If you are planning to go to one of the vaccine centers in your area, be sure to bring some form of identification with you. The centers are open from eight a.m. to four p.m.    

Channel 5