Value of the Vaccine
Dominica's health authorities battle vaccine hesitancy as anti-vaxxers ramp up their campaign to convince citizens that these jabs are bad for them
Insurance executive Brenton Hilaire is no anti-vaxxer by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he was among the first to voluntarily take the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine when it became available here, and is fully vaccinated.
"I understood what the objective of it was, which was to increase our safeguard against the COVID-19 situation. I mean, I understand that it's not foolproof - just like everything else in life, nothing is perfect - but I would prefer to be in a position of having a better chance of not being severely affected, than having no guard at all," Hilaire told The Sun. "And I also saw it as my responsibility to my family, my co-workers and society on a whole because . . . knowing that I could potentially spread it to them at a higher chance if not vaccinated was a concern to me, so I saw it as part of my responsibility to the wider society to see what I can do: protect myself and then protect them by extension."
However, even as the country continues to record dramatic rises in the number of COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks– 727 active cases as of Saturday – and though fewer than 20,000 were fully vaccinated based on the update presented by the ministry of health over the weekend, Hilaire remains opposed to mandatory inoculation.
"I don't believe in you doing something because I say you have to do. The way that society has become nowadays you have to really focus more on buy-in," Hilaire stressed. "So yes, we want you to do it but then it's our responsibility as leaders to really convince you to do it, so that when you do proceed and get vaccinated you understand the value of it and appreciate the positive impact that it could have on society. So I don't think it should be made mandatory but we have some work to do in explaining the reason behind the benefits that it could bring."
With fewer than 30 per cent of Dominicans fully immunised against the highly contagious and deadly virus, the Roosevelt Skerrit administration, like many in the neighbouring countries, is facing a wave of vaccine hesitancy, as anti-vaxxers ramp up their campaign to convince Dominicans that these jabs are bad for them. It's a battle the administration, so good at election campaigning, appears to be losing, as the number of Dominicans coming forward for their shots in the arm has slowed to a trickle.
For months, the hesitancy seemed to have had little impact, with active cases remaining in single digits and local transmission appearing non-existent. But the current explosion of infections – caused in part by a bike crawl, according to law enforcement officials, but also by super-spreader events organised or funded by governing party parliamentarians, including ministers, according to various sources – raises questions about the possibility of compulsory vaccinations.
Skerrit has already declared that there will be no such mandates – although he announced in May that tourism workers would have to be vaccinated – and the opposition leader, Lennox Linton, who is fully vaccinated, is also against the idea.
However, with the highly contagious Delta variant confirmed next door in St. Lucia, as well as Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago, and with the numbers here skyrocketing, placing the health services under intense strain and leaving the authorities struggling for a means to contain the spread, the prime minister may be forced to reconsider his stance and follow the example of some of his regional and international colleagues by demanding that frontline government workers be inoculated or take regular COVID tests at their expense.
This could come with its own risks, including street protests, as has been seen in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Martinique and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, some of which have turned violent, argued well-known pharmacist Val Cuffy.
"You see what happened in Antigua, we see what happened in St. Vincent, people are rising up and I think governments are very scared of having an uprising on their hands, because it will not look good to be fighting a battle for a pandemic and at the same time we have this war on the road," he told The Sun.
Cuffy is double-jabbed but is opposed to any decision to force vaccination on every Dominican who refuses to take the vaccine. Still, with an increasing number of public services falling victim to the virus, including the fire service, he is prepared to support compulsory immunisation for essential services.
"Frontline workers [should be vaccinated]. Right now we have an outbreak in the fire service, in the police department, nurses and doctors, I think these people should really get themselves vaccinated first off," argued Cuffy. "[However], the part where other people are going to be made mandatory. I do not think that you can mandate, people what it is you want to put into their into their bodies."