The decision to take the Covid-19 vaccine or not is primarily a personal one. However, the effect and outcomes of not doing it may not exactly be so personal after all. There are many people throughout the world who refuse to take vaccines for varied reasons. Many countries and territories, including the Virgin Islands, have national policies to control infectious diseases, which regulate the use of vaccinations to prevent and mitigate against them.
The positive aspects of vaccines and vaccinations can be debated, but the overall benefits are unquestionable. Children are required to be vaccinated against the likes of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), polio (OPV) and others before they can be admitted to school in the VI. In fact, the VI has been a longstanding member of the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI), and it is well upwards of 90 percent in terms of its administration of the agreed vaccines for school-age children.
Because of the use of vaccines, the World Health Organisation has declared the world free of smallpox and nearly free of polio — two very debilitating diseases. Vaccines, like so many other disease-fighting mechanisms, are not perfect in either their design or ability, but they are one of mankind’s best weapons in the arsenal against microorganisms called viruses. It has been demonstrated over decades that vaccines fit the proverb, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”
The most recent figures show that there have been more than 109 million confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide, with over 2.5 million deaths. The wider Caribbean region has confirmed 550,000 cases and more than 7,000 deaths, with rising numbers of reported cases in just about all Caribbean countries. It is scary to think that the entire population of the VI could easily be overwhelmed with this disease, especially since we wouldn’t be able to evacuate our sick anywhere.
In a recent article titled “Caribbean at risk of prolonging Covid-19 to their detriment,” Sir Ronald Saunders pleaded for greater awareness and greater effort to persuade the wider Caribbean region and its peoples to come to grips with the wider impact of not taking the vaccine. The article goes on to state, “Whatever genuine fears may exist, these people must be educated about the value of the vaccine to their health, and they must be encouraged by all influential agencies to take it.”
By now there are more than 150 million people worldwide who have taken the vaccine and there are no reported deaths directly attributed to it. This should be enough evidence to convince the sceptics but, sadly, it seems not to be sufficient.
Our economy and our way of life pre-pandemic — and even in some ways pre-Hurricane Irma — stand at a crossroads at which all of us can contribute positively. It does not require any great foresight. The travel industry is waiting to rebound, and all tourist-related destinations are at the receiving end. It is the new gold rush — one in which all can be direct beneficiaries.
But all have to be involved by becoming vaccinated. To understand that much, we only have to contemplate our children’s future in light of the long and lasting effects of continued absence from the classroom; the deleterious damage to our social infrastructure, especially in the area of crime; and the marginalisation of young males in the formal educational system.
While we may not all appreciate the domino effects of this particular issue, I have compared it to people who suffer from high blood pressure and refuse to take their medications. Such people invariably end up with a myriad of complications: strokes, heart disease and kidney failure leading to dialysis. The sad part of the story is that once the damage is done, it is done.
The majority of us in the VI at one point or another will desire to travel if even just to the neighboring United States VI. By the end of this year, the reality of the world will be that of a Covid-19 passport. It won’t be a government-imposed requirement: It will be one imposed by the travel industry, be it the boats, the airlines or the cruise ships. All will be under international rules and regulations that must be followed.
In the VI, we can be ahead of the curve and set the example. We still have the opportunity to be the first country or territory in the Caribbean to become completely vaccinated, reducing the spread of the virus, re-energising our economy, and getting our lives in potentially an even better shape than pre-pandemic. We have been given a gift that can be used to secure our future. We actually not only have the vaccine, but we have access to as much as we need. We should use it to our benefit. The UK is moving ahead and expects tourism to rebound in the summer of this year.
Minnesota Timberwolves basketball star Karl Anthony Towns has lost seven of his family members to Covid-19, including his dear mother. He has also had the disease himself and has shared his personal story and grief of the hurt and pain that he has been through.
I wonder to myself how many of us can bear to even think of such pain and the long-term sequelae. We have an opportunity not only to avoid that type of pain and experience but also the responsibility not to expose our friends and neighbours to it.
I personally have taken the vaccine well over a week ago as of writing and have suffered no side effects beyond a little soreness in the inoculated arm. I am looking forward to taking my second dose to put me, my family and those I interact with daily at less risk and exposure to Covid-19. We can all individually contribute to the greater good by simply becoming vaccinated.