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‘Rastas say vaccines make men sterile’: Myths fuel distrust – experts

With COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out in many countries around the world, experts in the research and treatment of deadly viruses in the Caribbean say strongly-held myths could threaten the take up of the vaccine in the region.

The view that vaccines cause autism, make men sterile and are developed to destroy the black race are some of the myths that should be addressed before the roll out of the vaccine in the region expected next year, the experts say.

“As health care workers we need to be made aware of these myths so that we can dispel them and encourage the population to take up the vaccine,” said Karen Josiah, nurse educator and head of the School of the Health and Behavioural Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Five Islands Campus.

Speaking on Friday at the UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum on COVID-19 Vaccination, Josiah said the view that vaccines make men sterile was “popular among the Rastafarian communities”. She said, however, there was no evidence of this.

She noted however that the general suspicion of vaccines especially among black people were “real and genuine”. She said this distrust came about in part because of the history of unethical medical experiments carried out on African Americans without their consent or knowledge.

One such experiment was the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in which 600 poor black men in the United States were observed with untreated syphilis for 40 years starting in 1932, even though the treatment for the disease was well known.

Also speaking at the forum, Professor Clive Landis, chair of the UWI COVID-19 Task Force noted that the view about vaccinations causing autism came from a 1998 study by British physician Andrew Wakefield that falsely claimed a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Wakefield was later struck off the medical register after it was discovered that the claims were fraudulent.

Josiah also noted that persons were concerned that vaccines contained substances such as Mercury but said there were not in quantities to cause any health risk.

Professor Christine Carrington, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology, UWI St Augustine declared that she will be getting the vaccine when it becomes available and encouraged all persons to do likewise.

She also noted that although there had been Phase 3 trials on thousands of persons with the three best known vaccines so far – Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca – it was still unknown how long the immunity will last and that there had been no extensive trials on children