By Demion McTair. Updated 2:27 p.m., Friday, April 2, 2021, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
The aim of this discussion article is not to persuade people to take or refuse Covid-19 vaccines. The purpose is to raise the popular arguments related to Covid-19 vaccination in SVG and to provide possible counterarguments for general discussion purposes.
Discussion: Since Cabinet circulated what many have described as a highly controversial memo to workers in the public sector, there has been a lot of debate on social media concerning Covid-19 vaccination.
According to the memo dated March 31, 2021, unvaccinated public sector workers “are required to be tested regularly for COVID-19 infection, up to once every two (2) weeks, based on risk levels as determined by the health authorities.”
Here are 5 of the dominant arguments and their counterarguments:
1. Vaccination is needed among more Vincentians to achieve herd immunity so that things can get back to a level of normalcy:
On the one hand: Herd immunity could make it easier for the government to relax some measures and get more economic activities going.
On the other hand: The World Health Organization (WHO) says people can still spread Covid-19 even if they are vaccinated. Therefore, the idea that herd immunity will bring back pre-Covid normalcy is perhaps a stretch. Public health measures of sanitization, mask-wearing, and social distancing would still need to be in place. The Centers for Disease Control echo similar sentiments.
Also, on the issue of normalcy, unlike Barbados and others that had lockdowns and curfews, Vincentians always enjoyed a unique level of freedom even during the heart of the pandemic. As such, the freedom which may be sold as only being accessible through vaccination in other Caribbean countries was never really taken away here in St. Vincent. Therefore, some might argue that it is hard to use vaccinations as a way to sell freedom that was never lost.
Although, many businesses across SVG closed during the pandemic, others expanded and opened in the food, agriculture, medical marijuana, and construction sectors.
2. Public sector workers who do not vaccinate should be tested regularly:
On the one hand: Testing unvaccinated workers could help health authorities gauge infection rates and the spread of Covid-19.
On the other hand: Since the science is still evolving on vaccination and the spread of Covid-19, testing only the unvaccinated workers defeat the purpose of the needed surveillance. Both the WHO and the CDC say we do not yet know how vaccines will affect the spread of Covid-19, therefore, all precautionary measures should apply to all.
Additionally, the WHO says that there is a category of people who should not take Covid-19 vaccines (Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and others). These are people who may have adverse allergic reactions to ingredients in the vaccines.
Are those people to be tested regularly too? If so, should they bear the inconvenience of the discomfort of testing because they naturally cannot take the vaccine?
3. The government’s memo is forcing Vincentians to take AstraZeneca and Sputnik
On the one hand: No one is being forced. If you wish to take the vaccine, do so. If not, you should be tested.
On the other hand: With the absence of other vaccines at this time, it could be true that public sector workers who do not want to be faced with the regular inconvenience of Covid-19 testing will have little choice but to take the AstraZeneca or Sputnik vaccines, based on the government’s memo.
Since the more readily available AstraZeneca has been seen as a controversial vaccine in some circles, internationally, it is unfair, in the absence of a broader range of choices, to indirectly ‘force’ people to take that vaccine.
4. People need more time to decide:
The vaccines go through rigorous testing and trials before approval. However, more information which happens to be pertinent information keeps surfacing with more questions.
On the one hand: There has been a lot of information from highly authoritative sources confirming the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. The Vaccines go through rigorous testing and trials before approval. Additionally, on the issue of time, the usage of the first batch of vaccines received by St. Vincent is just over halfway. Some 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines arrived on March 2. Notwithstanding the number of Sputnik vaccines, some 11,000+ vaccines have been administered.
The shelf-life of the vaccines is about 3 months, potentially leaving the government in a precarious position where time is concerned.
On the other hand: While there has been a lot of information confirming the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, more pertinent questions arise as more information becomes available. For instance, in late March, Pfizer pointed out that its vaccine will provide coverage of up to six months after the second shot. What happens after the six months? What is the figure of coverage for AstraZeneca or Sputnik?
Additionally, some people may have genuine and pertinent questions regarding their potential for having adverse reactions to the vaccines. Aren’t their questions important and worth asking?
5. The vaccine issue is a rights issue:
On the one hand: If a situation exists where the country can come under external pressure for failure to achieve herd immunity, then the people who don’t take the vaccine may end up being the ones holding at ransom, the rights to move forward, of everyone else.
On the other hand: If an individual feels that based on evidence that they do not have underlying conditions or may have had a mild reaction to Covid-19, or that they don’t know how they’d react to a vaccine, and that they don’t want to be vaccinated, then that is an important consideration. Additionally, pushing the idea of “taking the jab now in the interest of the economy and whatever happens to you personally, happens,” can be seen as an attitude that has little regard for individual rights.
These arguments are also in the context of an effusively erupting volcano. Public schools and other buildings have been reserved as volcano emergency shelters in the event of an explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano.
Feel free to add to the discussion. Leave a comment.