On Thursday 5 August, the prime minister of St. Vincent, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, was hit on the head by a rock thrown by someone from among a crowd of about 200 protestors who had gathered to protest government seeming intention of mandating Covid vaccinations for its employees. As I watched in disbelief the prime minister bleeding amidst a crowd of unsympathetic onlookers, I thought: you mean of all the things to be violent about—joblessness, poverty, corruption, violent crime, child and spousal abuse—Vincentians are killing their prime minister over fear of COVID vaccine?
The governments of the region are desperate for things to return to normal. With covid to blame, the economies of OECS territories contracted by an average of 17% in 2020, that of St. Vincent by 2.7%, and that of the more heavily tourist-dependent St. Lucia by 20.4%. Yet COVID continues to impede their ability to get on with the business of spearheading economic growth and tackling the myriad of social and economic problems their countries face. Their reelection, their ability to hold on to power, depends on it.
So it is understandable that the region’s prime ministers are urging, begging, and eventually may have to mandate that their citizens take the vaccine. But what I don’t understand is the failure of the governments to address, allay their people’s fear of the vaccine? Why do they keep focusing on only what they want at the exclusion of what the populace fears. Especially since the fear of covid vaccines isn’t a phobia, isn’t irrational; it’s based on real health risk.
Shame to say I am afraid of toads, but I have never been attacked nor harmed by toads, and except for people with dirty hands sending toads for others, I have never heard of a toad harming anyone. So my fear of toads is irrational. Apparently, it is a learned behavior. My mother feared toads, and so was her mother, my grandmother.
However, unlike my fear of toads, the fear of covid vaccines can’t be cast aside as a phobia, an irrational fear.
According to the WHO, there have been reports of rare but serious cases of blood clots following vaccination with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. As of July 15, 2021, out of every million vaccinated with AstraZeneca, four to six persons have suffered from blood clots. Regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in the US as of 7 May 2021, of the more than eight million people vaccinated, there were 28 reported cases of blood clots under review. And right here in Vieux Fort, my hometown, I’m told of at least one case of someone who died from a blood clot after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine. The WHO has hastened to add that blood clotting is a common health problem that can be caused by many factors, and that the risk of blood clots is much greater from COVID-19 itself than from the vaccines.
Since, according to even the WHO, the fear of taking the vaccine isn’t baseless, rather than simply browbeating their people into taking the vaccine, the prime ministers need to address these fears, explain that though the risk associated with the vaccine isn’t unfounded, the health risk of not taking the vaccine far exceeds that of taking it, so from a public health perspective the government would be derelict in its responsibility to keep the public safe if it doesn’t advocate for vaccination.
Now some persons’ defense for not taking the vaccine is that: what’s the point, even with vaccination, one may still contract the virus and one still has to wear a mask and observe the other COVID protocols. But these contrarians forget an important element of the virus. Long COVID. It turns out that even when one had a case of COVID so mild that one barely realized one had been infected, in the longer-term one can experience such symptoms as brain fog, fatigue, and muscle pain, to name a few, collectively called long COVID, which can last for months or longer. So it seems one shouldn’t underestimate the value of the vaccine in reducing the likelihood of contracting the virus. The safest bet is never to contract COVID.
In this modern era, we live and die by science. Science feeds us, clothes us, transports us, medicates us, dictates how we communicate with each other. We go to a doctor and before we open our mouths to list our symptoms the doctor pulls out his pen and writes a prescription, and we happily pop our prescriptive pills, side effects and all, without a plea, yet we are opposed to the COVID vaccine, indispensable for public health and designed by the same science that gave us the pills that we so happily popped.
Having done all the addressing and appeasing, the prime ministers should not be surprised if a subset of people remain adamant in their opposition to the vaccine, because some have hidden agendas, some have bought into a worldview and are under the spell of a hegemony that doesn’t allow the acceptance of the vaccine, and opposition to the vaccine helps fortify their membership, helps set them apart, helps to nourish, validate their suppositions.