The revelations that the likes of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Gamaleya have come up with vaccines that are over 90 per cent effective and are ready to be distributed, spell good news in the fight against COVID-19.
However, many people around the world are reticent about taking vaccines, not sure of the long-term effects they will have on both themselves and their children. Rather than celebrate the arrival of these vaccines, better efforts should be made educating people about them and allaying fears.
Confidence in taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines has grown over the last few weeks. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 per cent of Americans say they will take a vaccine to prevent and fight infection. This is an increase on the 51 per cent recorded last September.
However, 21 per cent of Americans do not intend to take a vaccine. The survey found that 71 per cent of people living in the United States believe the worst of the COVID-19 virus is yet to come. This is up from 59 per cent in June when people were asked the same question.
According to the WHO, across the world, there are 65.4 million reported cases of infection with 1.51 million deaths. The U.S. alone accounts for 14.2 million infections with 277,000 deaths. The Caribbean is reporting 295,000 confirmed cases with 5,500 deaths.
Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have agreed to take a vaccine publicly in order to encourage others to follow their lead.
George W. Bush’s chief of staff, Freddy Ford, said: “A few weeks ago President Bush asked me to let Dr [Anthony] Fauci and Dr [Deborah] Birx know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated.
“First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations. Then President Bush will get in line for his and will gladly do so on camera.”
President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, Angel Urena, added: “President Clinton will definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials. And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same.”
President Obama, who is promoting his recently published book, A Promised Land, said during a radio interview: “People like Anthony Fauci, who I know and I’ve worked with, I trust completely. So if Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, and can vaccinate, you know immunize you from getting COVID, absolutely, I’m going to take it.
“I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it. I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science and what I don’t trust is getting COVID.”
President Jimmy Carter is also encouraging people to get vaccinated, though he has not said he will do so publicly.
Last night, during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, President-elect Joe Biden made it clear he would join the former presidents in taking a vaccine in full view of the world.
“When Dr. Fauci says we have a vaccine that is safe, that’s the moment in which I will stand before the public.
“People have lost faith in the ability of the vaccine to work. It matters what a president and vice president do. I think my three predecessors have set the model on what should be done,” said Biden.
Here in Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton are undoubtedly the two most popular members of the government and it would say a lot if they went before the country and took a vaccine.
Both have called for Jamaicans to protect themselves by taking a vaccine as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. They have rubbished spurious claims on social media that are frightening many people and preventing them from considering getting vaccinated.
Speaking on the matter of Jamaicans taking a vaccine, Holness said: “There has to be a high level of public education to get people to understand the risks and safety dividend that you get from taking that vaccine so that you can make a conscious decision about your own health and security.”
He went on to add that Jamaica must be well placed when a vaccine becomes available and should not be preoccupied with spurious tales and conspiracies about the true intent of the vaccine.
“What Jamaicans have to be mindful of is, without this facility, vaccines can be developed by the richer countries that have the resources and who develop the vaccine in the first instance; they would be in front of the line and they would be able to vaccinate their population while we are debating fake news, while not having access to a vaccine to help us get our economy on track,” said the prime minister.
Tufton declared: “Vaccination has been tried and tested and has been in use for more than 200 years. Through vaccination, smallpox was declared eradicated from the world in 1980. Through vaccination, polio is on the verge of being eradicated and vaccinations continue to save the lives of over two million children each year.”
The Jamaican health minister recently announced in Parliament that around 270,000 Jamaicans will be able to receive a vaccine in the first instance and that a COVID Vaccine Coordinating Committee will be formed to monitor this form of immunization.
Holness’ and Tufton’s words would carry so much more weight if their actions were seen by all Jamaicans and they are the ones leading the charge.