Jul 30, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – Themistocles, one of the leaders of the ancient city-state of Athens in the early years of democracy, understood something fundamental about the exercise of the free will of the people in a time of crisis. The saying that came to be emblematic of his approach to the challenges in that regard was, “I come accompanied by two goddesses: Persuasion and Compulsion.”
Those two goddesses, Persuasion in particular, no doubt have their hands full in coming to the aid of political leadership the world over as, in the midst of the global crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine hesitancy and outright refusal present the most significant hurdle in keeping the global populations safe. The world over, governments are battling what must be a frustrating admixture of mindless religious superstition and rabid political rhetoric both enabled by an increasing complex infrastructure of misinformation spanning mainstream and social media, all to convince citizens that not only the multiple COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, but even now, that the basic concept of vaccination is.
The political strain of vaccine resistance is fairly easy to spot, transmitted primarily by opposition politics, whether it’s Joseph Harmon here in Guyana, Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago, or virtually the entire Republic establishment in the United States of America. The rationale for political opposition to vaccination has been as protean as the virus itself, ranging and changing from public procurement ‘concerns,’ to vaccine efficacy, to the issue of vaccination as potential infringement on personal freedom – and this without irony from lawmakers who themselves were first in line to be vaccinated at the expense of the state.
The religious strain of the anti-vaccination is more subtle, and often only apparent in its manifested outcomes – for example, multiple stories about super-spreader events last year had to do with churches defying lockdown orders and holding massive gatherings only for the infections to be discovered after. A Pew Research Center study earlier this year showed that vaccine hesitancy among Americans was significantly higher in religious populations, evangelical Christians in particular, than non-religious populations. According to one article on the study, published on analysis website, TheConversation.com, “Those who identify as Christian nationalists believe they are God’s chosen people and will be protected from any illness or disease. This proves problematic when it comes to vaccinations. A study earlier this year found Christian nationalists were far more likely to abstain from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. It builds on research that found Christian nationalism was a leading predictor of ignoring precautionary behaviours regarding coronavirus. Christian nationalists tend to place vaccinations within a worldview that generally distrusts science and scientists as a threat to the moral order. This was seen in the response of many on the religious right to guidance on masks and social distancing as well as, now, vaccines.”
All that said, it should be also conceded that the protean nature of COVID-19 itself has not been precisely helpful in presenting science as a consistently credible champion against the disease. The Delta variant of the virus has had public health officials the world over, the US in particular, backtracking on their guidelines and information when it comes to vaccination, masking and capacity for transition.
According to one CNBC article, Chief Medical Advisor to the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci, considers the Delta variant to be virtually a new virus: “Fauci said the CDC reversed its mask guidance on Tuesday — recommending that fully vaccinated people go back to wearing masks indoors in places where there are high transmission rates — because Delta is now the dominant strain in the U.S. In May, when the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could ditch their masks, the more transmissible Delta variant only represented about 1-2% of infections in the U.S.”
Against this backdrop, the numbers of infections keep rising, vaccines continue to be unevenly distributed in favour of rich countries even as significant sections of their populations resist vaccination, and the virus continues to mutate into even more infectious variants. As the world prepares for a next wave of coronavirus infections, world leaders will likely find themselves in a position where the Goddess of Persuasion might have reached the limits of her capacity, and her sister, the Goddess of Compulsion might very well need to spread her influence.
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