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SVG between rock and hard place – Surely we can do better, together

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Our country St Vincent and the Grenadines seems to be heading for a location that is best characterized as “between a rock and a hard place” where our approach to a solution to the COVID pandemic is concerned.

One can arrive at such a conclusion based on the current confusion being created about the vaccination campaign.

When a country and people are faced with a real threat their only hope for a way out is for all to band together behind a recognisable, agreed common strategy and work collectively to ensure safety and progress. Anything short of this, mass confusion in particular, can spell disaster. It could be that our fingers and mouths are busier than our brains, but we need a reality check lest we sail over the brink.

Our country is not the only one, neither in the Caribbean, nor the world as a whole, which is confronted with this threat. Almost every country in the world has to grapple with the pandemic to one degree or another. Comparisons with neighbouring or other countries do us little good in the circumstances; we must work out our own strategies while drawing on the experiences of others. If we don’t then it can be, to borrow a title from an old movie, “Back to Bataan” (Bataan being an island in the Pacific where some of the fiercest battles of the last world war were fought).

Our reality is that not only does the virus threaten our collective health, but more ominously in a longer-term sense it undermines our economic well-being and capacity to take care of our own livelihoods as well. We have the burden of COVID-required additional expense while government revenues are shrinking. This is often admitted by the government yet one is often given the impression with each new demand that somehow Big Daddy will find the resources. I am so happy, being a pensioner myself, that the National Insurance Services (NIS) has realized that there must be a limit to its welfare support, given its obligations to pensioners. That is the kind of realistic appraisal that we need.

The effects of the COVID pandemic cuts across all strata of the society, yet tends to separate and divide us in the handling of the crisis. Interestingly, when the first news of infections hit us, the early noises seem to be about how we can prevent the spread. There was no shortage of criticisms of the local authorities and advice about what we should do to prevent it. Now, when infections have passed the four-figure mark and we are on the verge of double-figure deaths, we do not seem so concerned about how to combat the virus. We even give credence to misguided ideas that “if we eat right” nothing will happen to us in the Caribbean. Are we entertaining such nonsense in the 21st century?

Having agreed with the rest of the world that vaccination is the most effective solution, as has been proven with many other diseases, we now have fallen prey to self-doubt. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with someone questioning the safety and efficacy of vaccines, but should not such persons seek information either to confirm their doubts or to have them dispelled entirely? Do you lock yourself into a dark room of limited knowledge and shut out all else?

The banner of individual rights is also raised. Again, that is perfectly reasonable in a democratic state. However the very concept of democracy means that not only one’s individual rights must be observed, but so must those of the society as a whole. It is all right for persons to object to wearing masks, (I don’t think that anyone enjoys this), or to say that “I will take the vaccine when I am ready”. In the meantime one is part of a wider society as likely to be infected as to infect others.

In this regard, what would parents say or do if a child with a highly infectious disease is allowed to go to school and sit and play with classmates, with the risk of a spread of the disease? Would they not call on the authorities to prevent that child from attending school while infected in order to protect their own loved ones? Where does collective responsibility lie?

All kinds of reasons are advanced not just to justify not being personally vaccinated but to undermine the vaccination process itself. In this, the action of some European countries to halt the Astrazeneca vaccination on some unproven allegation of blood clots after vaccination, based on the complaints of 300-odd reports out of tens of millions of persons vaccinated, has become the new Bible. Incidentally, it is interesting that two other of the ‘Big Pharma’ rivals, Pfizer and Moderna have reported, a new deal with Europe in the case of Pfizer and stepped us testing of the Moderna vaccine for children. Can we read anything in this?

If we are truly concerned about the future of our nation, then an enlightened national conversation is needed, NOW. Not for talk sake but to find solutions. Put the politics and personal attacks aside, make concrete proposals instead of objections at every step and if government is at fault, let us expose and make concrete proposals for the way forward, for all of us, not just sectoral interests. Let us take the High Road forward and not descend to the depths of division

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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