Will we wear masks forever?Friday, March 05, 2021
I am tired of wearing masks. Aren't you? However, 2021 has shown thus far that the novel coronavirus is here to stay longer than many had anticipated.
With the ever-rising COVID-19 cases and deaths, the curfews, social distancing, and mask-wearing remain a constant in our lives — for now. Even with talk of vaccines being procured by the Jamaican Government, there still exists a great deal of uncertainty and fear among many Jamaicans about being vaccinated. Some people think that the COVID-19 vaccine is being used to implant microchips, while others believe that the vaccine has been developed too fast to be safe.
In a recent conversation with a friend, she indicated that she is neither prepared to take a COVID-19 test nor to receive the vaccine when it becomes available. How then do we expect to truly put this pandemic behind us? We cannot allow fear and misinformation to lead our decision-making.
The anti-vaccine movement and conspiracy theories during this current pandemic aren't new. During the smallpox epidemic in 1885 leading anti-vaccinationist Dr Alexander M Ross published and widely circulated a pamphlet against vaccination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smallpox was one of the world's most devastating diseases known to humanity. In the 20th century alone, smallpox killed 300 million people around the world. The smallpox vaccination was made compulsory in 1853 and, as a result, the disease was officially eradicated in 1979.
The question at large is whether the COVID-19 vaccine may become compulsory. No doubt, almost every sector has been impacted negatively as a result of this pandemic, and as such it is not unreasonable that some organisations may wish to mandate that their employees are vaccinated. Can employers be legally challenged on discrimination grounds if employees refuse the vaccine due to religious belief, pregnancy, or a health condition?
Of greater concern is that Jamaicans may not be able to sue the manufacturer if any Jamaican should develop any serious issues or side effects as a result of the vaccine, given the indemnity agreements which the Government plans to execute before vaccines are received by Jamaica. This indemnity seems contrary to the legal principle of negligence established in landmark case of Donoghue v Stephenson (1932) UKHL 100. That case made the point that every person or company must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which could foreseeably injure another person. In my view, the COVID-19 vaccine could not be made compulsory and at the same time exempt the manufacturers from suit if individuals should develop any serious side effects.
Recently, Minster of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton announced that the Jamaican Government has secured $5 billion for the procurement of three million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. This is believed to be able to vaccinate approximately 1.5 million Jamaicans this year. For those who intend to be vaccinated this is welcoming news. For others, it is a sign that the end is near.
This pandemic has certainly changed the world and has given us new insight on how to adapt. The novel coronavirus has also learnt to adapt and has mutated into new strains, but let us be comforted by the fact that pandemics have been eradicated in the past, and human beings did not wear masks forever.
Matthew M Hyatt is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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