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Booster Shot Blues, as much of the world does without

Is it morally right to take a third shot?

By Ricky Browne

I was very happy back in March to get by first AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19. And I relt reassured to get my second vaccine three months later.

But now I am being offered a booster shot, and my feelings are a little more complex.

On one hand I am happy, because it means I will have more protection, and therefore will be less likely to catch the dreaded disease. Or if I do catch it, I will be less affected and less likely to have a miserable death. So that’s good.

But on the other hand, I am acutely aware that there are still millions of people, billions even, who have not yet had even one vaccine. By taking a booster shot, I feel a level of guilt that I may be depriving someone somewhere in the world, of having even one shot, and therefore some protection.

In Jamaica, for example, just over 10 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. This is far below the global average of about 37 percent.

According to Our World in Data, 48.7 percent of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. So far, 67 percent of the UK population has been fully vaccinated, compared to 12 percent in Jamaica, according to the same source.

Here in the UK, because I am of a certain age, and because I have other health complications, the government recommends that I get a booster – or run a higher risk of being hit hard by the virus – even though my chances of death are much reduced.

The likelihood of this disease lingering longer and killing more people is elevated the longer it takes to bring the virus under control. New variants will continue to pop up – some of them as bad or contagious as the Delta variant, and some which could conceivably be hardly affected by the current set of vaccines.

Ready for a booster?

So the longer people in the developed world don’t have the opportunity to have a vaccine, the longer even vaccinated people in the developed world will run the risk of being hit by this disease.

There is however the argument that when you are in a plane that is in danger of crashing or of losing oxygen, you must put on your oxygen mask before putting one onto a child or person in your care. So the argument is that if you are offered a booster, you should take it.

I believe I should take the booster shot that is offered to me – though the offer is about two months earlier than the December date I expect (six months after my last vaccine). So that’s not the point.

The point is how do I feel about it. According to WHO, it is morally wrong for people in the developed world to take booster shots when people in the developing world have to do without.

And that is partially true.

But the part of the developing world that I am closest to is Jamaica. And Jamaica has had to throw away thousands of vaccines – tens of thousands  – many of them donated by the UK – because thousands of people there refuse to take them. This is partially due to belief in conspiracy theories, partially due to not wanting UK or US vaccines, due to their history of imperialism or of taking advantage of poorer countries – or because of genuine fear that the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease itself.

Tens of thousands of AstraZeneca vaccines were dumped in Jamaica

In truth, the disease does seem to have a lesser effect in some sunny countries with young populations such as Jamaica, with a much harsher effect in temperate countries with much older populations such as the UK and Europe – especially in the winter months.

So, while it is worrying that so many young and healthy people in the developing world are refusing to take the vaccine when offered – on the flip side it does mean that my feelings of guilt are reduced. Because who is to say that the booster shot that I may nobly decline wouldn’t end up being tossed away?

There are also a minority of people here in the UK who still refuse to take the vaccine (many of them of West Indian descent) – so its not only something that is happening in the developing world. It was reported recently that some 100,000 workers from the NHS – or about 10 percent of the total – still refuse to take the vaccine. They may soon be required to take it by the government – or be forced to leave their jobs.

It seems to me that if people do not want to take this vaccine they should have the freedom to make that decision. The only people they are really hurting are themselves – though there will be a knock-on effect for vaccinated people as well. As the number of deaths continue to rise, especially of non-vaccinated people, they may well change their minds.

But at the moment this disease is so new, and the vaccine to beat it is also so new, that people should have the freedom to refuse it. What if at a later point, the government really did want to force the people to have a little robot in their bloodstream (as some fear is now happening). It would be better if there were some hold-outs and that not everyone went merrily running off the cliff like a misguided lemming.

I believe in the vaccine. So in an effort to protect myself, I will take it – though I may wait for my six month anniversary.

But I won’t crow about it – as I did for my first vaccine, when I told the whole world that I’d received it and they should too.  I’ll just do it quietly – relieved that I have more protection, but aware that the world is not level, and that there are many people out there, desperate for a vaccine, who have not yet had the chance.

So, as long as there are people who are offered the vaccine but refuse it, I think that there is a moral argument for me to take my third vaccine. People can not or should not be forced to take this vaccine. Which means that it becomes more necessary for people who want to have as much protection as possible to go ahead and take that third shot when its offered to them.

At the same time, every effort should continue to be made to get the vaccine into as many arms as possible, no matter where in the world those arms may be.

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