Jun 16, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the critical issue of vaccines and vaccine availability is something that has underscored major divisions in the global community. Even as some wealthy countries in the top global economic bracket are hoarding more vaccines than their citizens are even willing to take, other smaller nations are facing trouble even getting vaccines in the first place.
For example, Trinidad and Tobago, our normally more progressive CARICOM sister country, has had serious trouble in sourcing the vaccine in sufficient numbers to immunise its 1.4 million population, twice the size of Guyana’s. Things have become so dire in Trinidad to the point that the US Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago tweeted on Sunday that:
“The Government of the United States of America has made a donation of COVID-19 vaccines to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. The donation includes 80 vials of Pfizer vaccines. The United States is committed to assisting the Government of Trinidad and Tobago with its vaccination efforts. We believe that every vaccine counts.”
While the miniscule amount of the donation was lambasted, the fact that the Government of Trinidad humbly accepted it underscored the dire situation there. And even with the recent availability of some vaccines, Prime Minister, Keith Rowley, found himself having to apologise this past weekend for what was essentially a stampede to get vaccines, admitting that he as government had attempted to “do too much with too little.”
In contrast, Guyana has so far seen over 100,000 citizens or about one-eighth of our population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine with about half that number having been fully vaccinated. The administrative side of things seems to be running smoothly as well, with the Guyana Defence Force even being integrated into the process, with ranks seconded across the country to assist in the non-clinical, administrative processes in the rollout.
One area the Administration has stumbled considerably on however is using modern communication technology to inform the public when and where to get vaccines, as well as providing information about the process. There is no central portal with up to date information readily available on stationary or transient vaccination sites, particularly on social media. Queries on the Ministry of Health’s Facebook page regularly go unanswered. And it isn’t that social media is ineffective. A push on Facebook by First Lady Arya Ali saw dozens turn up for a vaccination drive she hosted a few weeks back.
That said, the largest hurdle to reaching a critical mass of vaccination is not going to be the cost of the vaccines, or glitches in the rollout, or poor public relations on vaccination but what is referred to, often euphemistically, as vaccine hesitation. Even with the progress made with regard to the Government’s vaccination drive, we are still far below any reasonable escape velocity when it comes to COVID-19 immunisation and a slowdown appears to be on the horizon, one pushed by a growing, multifaceted skepticism based in part by partisan politicking to the opposition base, faith-based distrust of the vaccine or vaccination in general, and the impact of global conspiracy theories about the supposedly nefarious purpose of any significant public health measure.
Anglo-American comedian and journalist, John Oliver, in a recent edition of his ‘Last Week Tonight’ Show on HBO summed up the efficacy or lack thereof when it comes to tackling vaccine hesitancy (the sharper term is ‘anti-vaxxing’) and the best possible way of persuading the skeptical that the vaccine is a good thing:
“In researching this piece, experts repeatedly told us the vaccine hesitant generally don’t respond well to hearing from politicians, celebrities or athletes telling them to get the vaccine. And I get that. I would love to think that I could end this piece having carefully laid out some data with a triumphant call for people to get vaccinated. The truth is, I am not going to convince the people in your life who are hesitant – the person with the best chance of doing that is you.”
The numbers of the dead from COVID-19 are rising. The names and faces are increasingly less anonymous. At this point in time, the 100,000 citizens who have taken that critical first step to become vaccinated have to take the initiative to convince their friends and family who are skeptical to go out and become vaccinated. This would be more effective than a thousand government initiatives.
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