COVID-19 vaccine scepticism
Lack of information, distrust and use of traditional medicine drive suspicionSunday, November 22, 2020
BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Lack of information, a general distrust of vaccines and wide use of traditional medicine emerged as the predominant sentiments among Jamaicans questioned by the Jamaica Observer in a random survey on the streets of the capital city last week after two pharmaceutical companies announced the development of vaccines that, they said, have demonstrated efficacy against COVID-19.
US biotech firm Moderna announced last week that its vaccine candidate was nearly 95 per cent effective in a trial, a week after similar results were announced by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
On Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech filed an emergency use authorisation request for their vaccine with the US Food and Drug Administration. The authorisation is temporary or conditional and is granted in response to an emergency situation, such as a pandemic.
With the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine reaching global markets by March 2021, and Jamaica's relationship with COVAX — a World Health Organization facility aimed at providing equitable access to vaccines for poor nations — the Sunday Observer asked Jamaicans whether they would take the COVID-19 vaccine if it is made available by the Government free of cost.
Hilda Gilzeane, 63, had strong doubts about the efficacy of a vaccine at her age, arguing that it could exacerbate illnesses that she might not know about.
“When I was a child and get vaccine, mi still get other illness, so what is the difference with this one?” Gilzeane questioned, adding that she preferred taking herbal remedies.
“I don't trust the vaccine because sometimes the same vaccine can kill you. You might have a condition that it counteract with. So I don't trust it.
“The herbs is the healing of the nation. Vaccine can't prevent you from catching any sickness and it might counteract with other sickness we have that we don't know about,” said the elderly woman.
Herbal remedy was a recurring theme among several people who claimed that a variety of traditional herbs were their main source of healing.
Shernette Williams, a herbal tea vendor at Coronation Market in downtown Kingston, said she does not take pharmaceutical medicine and that she has not had to visit a doctor in three years.
“I'm really a herbalist, so I wouldn't think to take doctor medication. I have never taken a flu shot so I would never take a COVID-19 vaccine either,” Williams said, pointing to her shelves stacked with an assortment of herbal teas.
“I use a lot of herbs, and whenever customers come to me with the flu, I recommend a herbal tea for them and they feel better. You also have to clean your blood and I make sure to do that. Over three years I don't go to the doctor and I am feeling good,” Williams said.
Other responders echoed her sentiment about using herbs primarily to ward off illnesses.
“I am already protecting myself from COVID, so I don't need the vaccine. I make sure drink my cerasee bush and other herbal medicine — that is what we need to protect ourselves, not no vaccine. I don't trust what they put in it, and we don't know the side effect it can have,” said Vertran Bailey.
Greg Morgan agreed. “The vaccine might well just have a different effect, separate from keep you from catching coronavirus. I think it is better to just use the herbs that we know than go take a vaccine that might give you side effects that harm you than protect you,” he said.
Other people expressed general distrust of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Nobody in my community nuh have COVID and I don't have COVID, so I don't need fi take the vaccine. I don't know what them put in the vaccine, if it is something that could kill mi,” said Joseph Frater.
Paulette Edwards had similar concerns.
“Suppose it make you sick more than make you better. We don't know. The people in America not taking the vaccine so why we in Jamaica must take it? I trust God, I'm a Christian. I don't like the whole vaccine idea,” Edwards said.
No vaccines, though, have been distributed to the public in America.
People less sceptical about a COVID-19 vaccine, however, expressed trust in the Government to look out for their welfare.
Lynn Kerr, another vendor at Coronation Market, said she would take the vaccine as long as it was proven to be safe.
“If the Government tell us the truth about the vaccine, and if it works, then I will take it. But if it does not work, I won't take it. They just need to come out and say exactly what it will do and what are the risks, so that people can choose for themselves,” said Kerr.
Trusting the Government to check the efficacy of any COVID-19 vaccine was a common sentiment among those who said they would take it, while others leaned on their faith.
“If it is for our protection, then I will take it. I don't think that if the Government know seh the vaccine don't good them woulda give wi, so I would take it, because is not like is Jamaica alone, is the whole world would be taking it,” said one man who gave his name as Rasta Bigga.
Retinella Edwards had a somewhat similar view. “I trust God, but if we have to take it to protect ourselves, then I would take it,” she told the Sunday Observer. “None of us don't want to die and we don't know who have it. So therefore, if it came to the test, as a mother of six children who have to travel to Kingston, I wouldn't want to pass the virus to them, so I would take it.”
Alpha Kelly, a sorrel farmer from Manchester, said he had no qualms taking the vaccine.
“I would take it because I am up and down in the street and I don't know if I have it already or not. If I don't have it, then I would take the vaccine to protect myself,” said Kelly.
There were, however, some conspiracy theorists surrounding the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine and the pandemic on a whole.
One woman, who gave her name only as Marcia, was seen distributing posters outlining the similarities between satanic rituals and the preventative measures of social distancing and wearing a mask.
“This is a sign of the mark of the beast,” said the woman, who opted to have her poster instead of her face photographed. “In satanic rituals participants have to stand six feet apart and wear a mask. Why are we taking things from satanic things and saying we are fighting a pandemic?” she questioned.
The woman's concerns about nefarious plots were echoed by other people who, while less articulate, expressed a general distrust about the seriousness of the pandemic and the safety of vaccines.
“I don't really have no understanding, but I hear them a say that the vaccine nuh good and wi not to take it. People say it is the mark of the beast and them something deh, so I don't trust it,” said Janet Nelson.
“By the grace of God I won't catch COVID. But if this coronavirus was going around like how them say, none a wi wouldn't be in the market today. Whole heap more people woulda dead. And most a di people who dead is because of the same mask them a wear, because them can't get fi breathe the right way,” Nelson added.
Andrew Bignall, another vendor, said he saw dismissive information about a COVID-19 vaccine circulating on social media and so, he would not take it.
“I hear people warning all over social media that we not supposed to take the vaccine, so I don't think I would take it. I try to eat right to protect myself, so if I catch it, hopefully my immune system will protect me. But I am sceptical about the whole vaccine thing. I just don't trust it,” said Bignall.
Other responders appealed for more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, arguing that their decision to take it or not would hinge on whether there were any side effects or the possibility of making other illnesses worse.
“I would not be among the first set of persons to take it. I need information. I would have to know more about it like what the side effects are and what underlying illnesses it might affect. I wouldn't just take it like that, so the Government would have to give us more information,” said Susanna Ormsby.
Donette Edwards, who also sells in the market, said she's still on the fence about whether she would take it or not.
“I would have to know the full truth about it before I consider taking it. It's very hard for me to say right now. I would have to do my own research and find out for myself. But right now, I wouldn't take it,” said Edwards.