As the Belizean nation grapples with our current economic challenges, and with our government making steady strides in its conversation with the IMF and our Superbond creditors, there is a growing feeling of hope among citizens, even as our Covid-19 numbers hold steady in the low bracket, and as the scheduled arrival in July of the first cruise ship since last year’s shutdown signals the return of cruise tourism. Still, one question still lingers upon the shoulders of a sizable portion of our population – to “jab” or not to “jab.” With the donation of 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccines last week from our northern neighbor, Mexico, our nation is now poised to possibly achieve so-called “herd immunity,” but that is only if large numbers of the remaining un-vaccinated population make the decision to get their “jab.”
In any democracy, there is never unanimity on any issue. And there are many issues that are not clearly defined as being right or wrong; it’s often a matter of perspective or interpretation. In regard to the question of taking the vaccine, while it might seem to be a no-brainer to most citizens who have already taken it, there are concerns still to be weighed by others whose special situation, health condition, age, or innate misgivings may lead to their reluctance to be vaccinated.
“Science” has convincingly proven that the effects of the Covid-19 virus are significantly reduced after one has been vaccinated, so that the number of individuals who need to be hospitalized or even die after contracting the virus, is much smaller among previously vaccinated people versus those who were not vaccinated for Covid-19. But even “science” is not absolute; a few vaccinated people may still “catch Covid;” some may suffer side effects from the vaccine, and a miniscule few may even die; but it is said that one’s chances of survival are much, in fact many times over, improved, if vaccinated.
Why the reluctance, then, by some individuals, even among educated people or in the healthcare industry, to be vaccinated? One of the first issues raised is the speed with which the various current Covid-19 vaccines were developed, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and Sinopharm. In fact, the lethality and huge number of people falling victim to the epidemic starting early last year had put the whole world community in emergency mode, with a major push to speed up the development of an effective vaccine, which under normal circumstances could take as many as five years before getting WHO safety clearance.
The fact of the matter is that scientists had defined the current virus as SARS CoV-2, indicating that indeed there was first a “SARS CoV-1”, last seen in 2004, and which many of us recall simply as “SARS” – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a national health scare some years ago, which thankfully did not impact Belize or the world in a major way. (There was also the Ebola scare; another deadly virus that, thankfully, was successfully contained in a few African nations before it could become a worldwide pandemic. Belizeans will recall the incident back around 2014 when a cruise ship was refused entry into our waters by government, after reports about a possible Ebola case onboard.) In the case of Covid, with much research having already been accomplished towards the development of a vaccine for SARS CoV-1, or simply SARS, as it was then called, it appears that the groundwork had already been laid for development of a vaccine for the CoV-2 variant which now plagues the world.
The trial period for test runs among human volunteers was apparently fast-tracked, and thus the legitimate concerns of many, that the full safety test-trials had not been adequately achieved before the present Covid-19 vaccines were given the green light by the World Health Organization (WHO). In that regard, with thousands dying daily in one U.S. state alone at the height of the pandemic, the situation demanded consideration with a “risk-benefit” type of analysis, where the risk of some bad reactions, even a few deaths, among a large number of vaccine takers was weighed against the great probability of continued large-scale hospitalization and deaths among a non-vaccinated population. Certainly, there have been some people who have experienced side effects from the vaccine, and a few have even died; but there is always the argument that other health issues may have played a part in those cases.
There is still more being learned about this virus, and “science” admits its growing knowledge as research continues with the benefit of experience over the past months since the vaccination process began. However, the results so far have been so convincing to the officials in the medical community, starting with the WHO and the CDC (Center for Disease Control in the U.S.), and including our own local health authorities, that the drive now is to get as many of our people vaccinated as possible, so that as a nation we can arrive at that point in our population where there is enough protection/immunity against the full blast of the disease so that our economy can get back to rolling on all cylinders, starting with tourism, heretofore our biggest foreign exchange earner.
Are you one of those who are afraid of the vaccine? That is your right. Regardless, and this also applies to all of us who have already been vaccinated, our own safety still requires that we do those things that will help to make us strong and resilient (talking about our immune system) against the effects of Covid-19, should we be somehow exposed to it. Safety first has to be our motto, vaccinated or not, and that means adhering to the established protocols that “science” has proven to help in our protection and to reduce the chances of spreading the virus – wearing a mask in public; keeping “social distance”, especially when in an enclosed space (outdoors is always preferable); washing hands with soap and water, or using hand sanitizer when that is not possible; eating healthy (include vegetables and fruits, avoid a lot of processed food; fresh from the market is best); and trying to get some regular exercise.
The whole world is taking a licking from Covid-19. And we were for a while also; over 300 deaths in our small population of under 400,000 is significant. But, thankfully, we seem to have gotten it a bit under control. However, we cannot afford to slip back, as our past experience in San Pedro last year has proven that Covid-19 can explode upon us again at any time.
“Every man (woman) got a right to decide his (her) own destiny.” (Bob Marley) There are no guarantees; it’s your personal choice. But for every citizen that sees a greater risk in not being vaccinated, and decides to join the growing number who have taken the “jab,” bear this one fact in mind – what you are doing in taking the vaccine, is helping to bring Belize as a nation closer to being fully vaccinated against the scourge of Covid-19; and that should make Belize stronger. Science has shown us the positive in large numbers getting the “jab”; but if Jah/Allah/God sees fit that you endure any negative from that effort, your one consolation is that you did it for Belize, and “we love wi nation!” (Kenny Gladden)