Ads by Google Ads by Google

“Refusals” of COVID-19 vaccine is a right of an individual, DoH says

DoH Pharmacist, Dr. Francine Amoa
Media public awareness campaign for the vaccine soon to be launched

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Even before the COVID-19 vaccine arrives on island this weekend, questions are already being raised as to whether an individual — especially first responders — can opt out from getting the new vaccine, manufactured by Pfizer Inc. There are also questions of whether the vaccine is safe.

And the questions were among issues raised with health officials during a joint Health Department and LBJ Medical Center news conference Monday this week at the LBJ compound, where officials said the government plans to conduct a public awareness program to educate the public about this new vaccine.

American Samoa’s first vaccine shipment is due this Saturday on the cargo flight, and the priority group to get vaccinated first are healthcare workers — including those in the private sector — and first responders.

Question have been raised from the community about people’s rights on whether or not they want to be vaccinated with the new vaccine. And do people on the frontline — the health care workers and first responders — have the choice of not taking the vaccine.

Asked during the news conference if these frontline workers have the option to say yes or no to the vaccine, LBJ chief executive officer, Faumuina John Faumuina responded, “Of course, anyone can say yes or no” — for those working at the hospital.

“But then we may have to step up our ruling. They may have to go home and stay home. We haven’t reached that point yet. But we have discussed that option,” he said. “We haven’t reached that decision at this point... until after we do our training.”

Faumuina said, “We have to educate our staff and workforce,” and noted that LBJ’s infectious control officers are available to answer questions “so that the [LBJ] workforce doesn’t have any doubts about the vaccine.”

Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua noted the rule for workers, who opt out of taking the vaccine, is a decision by directors. For example, he makes the decision at DoH and Faumuina at LBJ.

DoH estimates that about 1,700 healthcare workers and first responders — DoH, LBJ, port administration, DPS, customs, immigration, and drivers — will be vaccinated from the first shipment. (See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for details.)

Faumuina and Motusa co-chair the government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, and some medical members of the task force and support medical staff attended the news conference.


Task force member and DoH Pharmacist, Dr. Francine Amoa — who also chair’s the panel’s distribution working group — said during the news conference that “we expect to convene all of our first responders... for an educational and informational session on the vaccine.”

“Because it’s still so new, there is a lot of reluctance about whether or not it’s safe. I do want to stress that because it’s a vaccine, the requirement for safety and the standard for safety is very very high to the US Food and Drug Administration,” she points out.

She said DoH has information available on safety of the vaccine to share with the public. “For now, for the government, we’re trying to educate as much as possible those who are considered first responders and health care workers,” she said.

Motusa said the major work ahead for the DoH and LBJ is to provide to the public all information on the vaccine from the federal health authorities. And if this task is successful in explaining this information, that means fewer questions from the public, and an individual will make his or her own decision, when it comes to whether or not to get the vaccine.

He said DoH and LBJ will have to work with those individuals, referred to as “refusals” to provide them information and data on the vaccine.

The DoH director says that while the vaccine has yet to arrive, there are already reports of others’ efforts to “reverse” public perception and thinking on the importance of this vaccine. However, he said DoH and LBJ strongly recommend for the public to be vaccinated as a protective measure for themselves and their families as well as the community as a whole.

He stressed that it’s the person’s right whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are also reasons for the need to get vaccinated. For example, if borders are re-opened for commercial flights to and from Hawaii, there may be a time when the US government will say that the US would only accept travelers who tested negative for the virus and have been COVID-19 vaccinated.

He said such requirements by the US, are similar to the measles outbreak when the Samoa government required travelers entering their borders to have proof of vaccination through their immunization record.

Motusa reminded the public that even when the vaccine arrives, it does not mean that American Samoa is in the clear of this deadly pandemic and borders will reopen. He also said that with the vaccine available, DoH would also set health protocols to ensure the protection of the community from the coronavirus. He didn’t elaborate further on the protocols.

The Health director reiterated that it is the person’s choice of whether or not to get the vaccine.

DoH and LBJ plan to soon launch a media public awareness campaign on the vaccine. Anyone seeking information on the vaccine can call DoH hotline- 219 or 633-5871.

Samoa News will report later on the rest of the issues from the news conference — including those who are eligible and not eligible for the vaccine — in future editions.