Ignore the anti-vaxxers: Get your jab!Wednesday, July 28, 2021
BY the time this column is published Prime Minister Andrew Holness would have announced tighter restrictions in yet another effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus which has had the country in a vice-grip since March 2020.
In a previous piece I had expressed grave reservations about the relaxation of the measures in the context of the low vaccination rate in the country. I have been empathetic about the Government's need to contain the virus, while ensuring that people's livelihoods are not obliterated in the process. And, various groups, especially in the entertainment industry, had raised their voices to bring attention to the extent to which they were chafing under the restrictive measures.
As we have seen since the onset of the virus, fighting COVID-19 is a delicate balancing act for any Government. In a poor, developing country like Jamaica one does not have the option of entirely shutting down the economy. If people do not get a chance to 'breathe' through some form of entertainment, they may become restless, if not violent.
I empathise with the entertainment sector and with the need for people to exhale, but it was clearly predictable that it would have been well-nigh impossible to police people's behaviour, or rely on the goodwill and common sense of people to observe the rigid protocols at entertainment venues.
After a period of curfews and other restrictions any easing of these measures would be seen by fun-starved patrons as a time to let down their guard and have some fun. And one is not trying to limit anyone's ability to have fun, but we are still in the middle of a deadly respiratory pandemic, which, by its very nature, severely limits the extent of any fun in which we might want to indulge.
When people are crammed together in a given space where alcoholic beverages are being served, and there is a lot of dancing and shouting, there is a levity that does not leave much room for stringent observance of wearing masks or physically distancing. This is especially so when illegal parties and 'sessions' are held without any fear of being caught. Let's get real here.
The argument that prolonged social isolation, especially among the young, can lead to serious mental problems is a very strong one. So, too, is the lack of social interaction among the elderly population, which may lead to many of them developing early dementia and other mental problems associated with pernicious loneliness.
But we should know by now that the virus has no respect for any of these concerns. Neither does it respect the fulminations of a columnist, a prime minister, or even the Pope. It will do what it has always done — infect those who do not take the steps that are necessary to prevent infection.
By now we have all become familiar with these protocols — wear masks, physically distance where possible, wash and sanitise hands as often as possible. However weary or impatient we get, these observances do not change. In fact, they become more intensely necessary when the virus mutates — as it has done — and more palpably so when new variants can be as easily transmissible as the Delta.
Now the prime minister has told the nation of retightening measures to be taken in light of a worrying uptick in the daily positivity rate of viral infections. This does not come as a surprise to those who know how this virus operates and the propensity of Jamaicans to ignore the protocols. What is clear is that there are not many options that any Government has in this regard. You want to make the right decisions, but you soon discover that these are not easy to come by. Today's joys are tomorrow's sorrows. One man's pain is another's gain. You do the best you can hoping for a good outcome.
This seems to be the reality that is settling on American leadership as it continues to battle vaccine hesitancy and the unenlightened defiance that afflicts a large portion of the American population. This defiance is largely concentrated in the southern states, dominated by Republican politics. What is emerging is a clear correlation between vaccination opposition and political ideology, which speaks to the great divide in the country. When the history of this period is written about the US it will be clearly noted that the greatest vector of the virus and its variants was the political division that plagued the nation at this critical juncture.
I can empathise with those who hesitate to take the vaccines because they believe that they were produced too early — though there is no truth to this assertion, as work on the coronavirus vaccines have been going on for well over 10 years.
I can also find some room for those who hesitate on the grounds of religious beliefs or the fear that the vaccines may harm their health, especially if they have underlying medical conditions. Again, so far, it has been shown that the vaccines have been hugely successful in preventing hospitalisations or any adverse outcome to the overwhelming majority of those who have taken it. So this fear is hugely exaggerated, but I can understand it.
What I have no patience for is the “mark of the beast” mythology that some religious people peddle. I am afraid I can find little or no room to empathise with those who hesitate because of conspiracy theories about chips being implanted into the body, or that the vaccines are designed by governments for population control, or because of the lies being propagated by right-wing operatives largely drawn from Republican party sympathisers and influencers who urge people not to get vaccinated. Fealty to this cultic tyranny of Republican politics is proving to be lethal in states controlled by Republicans; however, reality seems to be setting in as the virus does its deadly work among the unvaccinated.
I refer to the American dilemma to urge Jamaicans to think and not be swayed by the rantings of the anti-vaxxers, some of whom we have in the island. I say this, too, in the context of the big shipment of vaccines that should be arriving in the island by August. We must not imitate unenlightened defiance which masquerades as truth but is characterised by ignorance and stupidity. Listen to the scientists and be guided by their wisdom and judgement. When the time comes, do the patriotic and loving thing for your friends, families, and colleagues: Get the jab!
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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