Many Jamaicans don’t want to be guinea pigs
By Ricky Browne
While the United Kingdom is starting to see a decline in its rate of Covid-19 cases and deaths, many other countries are seeing a new wave start to hit them.
Jamaica is one such country, where the number of daily cases have peaked, just as the island has started to take delivery of two relatively small amounts of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
The UK has now vaccinated more than 26 million people or about 36 percent of the population, mainly with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, but some Pfizer and Moderna as well. The result is that the rate of infection in the UK has dropped for its alarming peaks of January, to less alarming numbers now. The UK has had more than 125,000 deaths from the Coronavirus, but death rates are now at about 100 people per day, compared to about 600 people per day towards the end of January. Tragic, but trending down.
But in Jamaica, which only received its first 50,000 vaccines as a gift from India on March 8th – the numbers have started to increase. On March 8, the country recorded 878 new cases, a new high. Death rates are still low at an average of about five people per day — peaking at 12 in one day earlier this month — but that compares to an average of only one person per day back in January.
A second delivery of some 14,400 vaccines from the global COVAX facility arrived in the island on Monday, received at the airport by Minister of Health Chris Tufton. Jamaica is the first country in the Caribbean to get vaccines from COVAX.
In April Jamaica will start to get 1.8 million doses of vaccines under the African Medical Supply platform, it has been reported.
Barbados and Dominica took early delivery of India’s charitable gift earlier in March – to much concern in Jamaica that the government had either refused or had not done enough to receive similar charity.
But the government had always said that it would be following the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and up to that point, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine had not got WHO approval.
Once that approval was given, the government was able to go ahead and arrange to receive India’s charitable gift.
But alarmingly, the response has been largely negative with people commenting online that the AstraZeneca vaccine is dangerous. Why not the Pfizer vaccine instead? This when previously people were saying that the Pfizer’s RNA method of creating the vaccine would alter people’s DNA.
Others insist that the only vaccine they will be willing to take is one of the Cuban vaccines. Cuba is working on four Covid-19 vaccines, but none of them have been approved by Cuba itself yet, and are still in testing stages. While it could be that the Cuban vaccines will be effective, it could be that they will never see the light of day, as Cuba may determine that they simply don’t work.
Even if Cuba does approve its own vaccines, the Jamaican government position is that it will not be using any vaccines that have not been approved by the WHO.
Meanwhile, China, which is where the Covid-19 virus started, has also created at least two vaccines and has been vaccinating its population. But those vaccines have not yet got the approval of WHO. So they will not be accepted by Jamaica. If they were approved and did become available in Jamaica, it is highly likely that Jamaicans would express severe misgivings.
The United Arab Emirates has been inoculating people with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, but recently reported that some people would need to receive a third dose to boost their response. That news would make the Chinese vaccine even less attractive to many Jamaicans.
The Russian vaccine – Sputnik V – has not been approved by the WHO yet either. But like the Chinese vaccine, it is being used in several other countries.
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved, but has been used here in the UK since December, to no ill effect with more than 17 million people taking it. I will be one of them very shortly.
Unfortunately, largely due to political considerations, some countries in Europe have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Earlier this year French President Macron stated that it was ‘almost ineffective’ for people over the age of 65. But he backtracked pretty quickly to say that he’d be happy to have it – but not quickly enough for many people to increase their fear of it.
More recently some EU countries have stalled the use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine because of reports of a handful of cases of blood clotting, which may or may not be due to the vaccine. More European countries have joined the list. Currently the list includes the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France and Ireland. But the British government and the WHO have both said that the vaccine is safe.
FEAR OF GUINEA PIGS
Of course the stalling of the rollout of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has driven greater fear among doubters, including many Jamaicans who now question why Jamaica would be willing to use a vaccine on them which is being rejected by every other country. The fact that it is only a few countries, and that it is being suspended rather than rejected is of no consequence.
Many people would prefer to believe that they only danger they face is having some awful reaction to the vaccine resulting in death. But the reality is much worse, and that is the greater likelihood of a painful death when they catch Covid-19.
And in all likelihood it is only a matter of time before everyone on the planet has contracted the disease. Not all will die, but millions more will die, especially if they have not been vaccinated against this new plague.
But many Jamaicans say they don’t want to be a guinea pig.
It’s a little too late to be a guinea pig at this stage when more than 26 million people have been vaccinated in the UK alone, with more than 107 million people vaccinated in the United States and some 53 million more people vaccinated in China and 30 million in India. In total some 360 million people have been vaccinated around the world, according to statistics from Our World in Data.
But that is of no concern to anti-vaxxers or the conspiracy theorists who won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Unfortunately, Jamaicans have one of the lowest levels of trust in the world. So the natural instinct of many is not to believe a word that is told to them, especially if that word seems to be something good. So that tendency is likely to mean that there will be a low rate of people accepting any vaccine for this disease.
Jamaica also has one of the highest murder rates in the world. In fact, it is now believed to have the highest murder rate in the Western Hemisphere – higher than Venezuela and higher than Honduras. But as high as the murder rate is, people in general do not walk around fearing that they are about to be killed by some known or unknown assailant.
About 1300 people were murdered in Jamaica last year – not including the scores who were killed by the police — more than 130 last year. Meanwhile, less than 500 people have died from the Coronavirus, out of some 31,300 known cases.
There can be few countries in the world where the murder rate is so much higher than the death rate from Covid-19.
If people are not worried about being murdered, then why would they worry instead about the lower likelihood of dying from Covid?
It may not be until the death rate from this disease is more than 1500 per year that people will start to take the disease more seriously in Jamaica. At that moment they may think that perhaps it is a good idea to take a vaccine after all.
Jamaica is currently undergoing what appears to be a new wave, with a higher rate than all other Caribbean countries, except Cuba, which is seeing its rate decline at the moment. Jamaica has an average of 639 new cases per day according to data from Johns Hopkins University, compared to 826 in Cuba.