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Some Thoughts about the Vaccine Situation

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A friend from Antigua wondered why Vincentians were not taking the vaccine. I saw at that time a chart from NEWSDAY indicating the quantity of vaccinations administered in CARICOM and the wider Caribbean, that appeared to have been posted a day before I began this article. Obviously, comparisons like this have to take into account the population size and time when the countries began administering the vaccines. For the Caricom region I was quite impressed with what was happening in Antigua/Barbuda, St Lucia, Dominica, and Barbados. At that time, we had only vaccinated 9, 383 persons, Grenada with a larger population had vaccinated 8, 606. I suspect that by the time this article is read we would have done much more, but how much more is the question. Looking at SVG there are a lot of issues involved. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has disrupted lives, although here perhaps not as much as countries that had instituted curfews and general lockdowns.  SVG is a country divided politically where there is not much trust in politicians. One would have hoped, given the circumstances, that efforts would have been made to tackle the many issues with a united front, but it was politics as usual, and we are suffering because of that.

I am of the view that public relations on this issue was extremely poor. I am not saying that a lot was not done, but public relations efforts have to take into account the circumstances of the time. We needed to have heard much less from the political directorate and much more from health personnel. Let us realise first of all that the taking of vaccines is not mandatory, so what was needed was education and smart public relations. Whatever might have been the intentions of the top political brass, many persons, teachers, and minivan operators, for instance, had the feeling that they were being pressured to take the vaccine.

There are a lot of issues that make Vincentians hesitant. Our Prime Minister rushed to take the Sputnik vaccine even though we only had a few available. So today we hear some teachers saying that they are waiting to take the Sputnik vaccine. What is interesting about this is that we have not been getting a lot of information about that vaccine from the WHO and other international bodies, including, the American CDC from whom we get much of our information. There is a lot of politics involved as developed nations try to push their own interests. President Biden made reference to Russian sites trying to undermine vaccines from the West. But in our case with the Oxford-Indian AstraZeneca that is available to us, it must be said that the company responsible for it made some diplomatic and public relations errors that have undermined confidence in what might otherwise to be a good vaccine. Given all of this people should not be bull-dozed.

The teachers felt that the call for them to attend school at this time for teachers development was an effort to pressure them into taking the vaccine since nurses were going to be available. The issue of passing an SR&O to get minivan operators to take the vaccine before being allowed to increase the number of passengers they were allowed to carry was dismissed by the president of VINTAS as an effort to test the waters and gauge public reaction. Even if this was serious it really made little sense.

The Prime Minister has called on the churches to encourage persons to take the vaccine. Are these church leaders in a position to answer the type and number of questions that would obviously be asked? While a church leader could inform and enlighten me about matters related to the bible and Christianity, I am not prepared to be guided by them on health matters, especially those related to the pandemic. The PMs statement that Chatoyer would have said to take the jab sounds like a joke. First it takes Chatoyer out of his historical context. If anything since the vaccines were coming from those who wanted his peoples’ land, he would have opposed it. The effort to relate the taking of the vaccine with carnival is another of the ridiculous statements.

As we go forward let us be sensitive to peoples’ concerns, to the fact that there are a lot of questions to be answered. A serious and effective education and public relations effort is needed. In doing this forget the politics and let the health people speak and do so from the point of view of science.  In the end the people will make their own decisions.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian