Q: Archbishop J, why vaccinate?
We will not get out of the series of lockdowns, mask-wearing, social-distancing, and isolation until significant proportions of the planet are vaccinated.
The other way out is to allow people to be infected in sufficient numbers to build herd immunity. The cost of this second strategy will be high mortality, overrunning national health care systems all over the world, before the pandemic ends, while shutting down economies, and creating unemployment and social instability.
These, according to many senior health professionals internationally, seem to be our real options.
Of course, we could follow the practice, as in China and South Korea, of mandating everyone to instal a phone app that tracks contacts in real time. If you were in close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19, the colour of the app would change, and you would need to report immediately for further advice on what to do.
In the West, we consider this approach a violation of our freedoms and human rights. The fact is these nations stayed open longer with fewer consequences and greater stability.
At stake here is the Western notion of individual freedom as opposed to the Asian notion of the common good. These two perspectives—individual freedom and the common good—need to be in delicate balance.
The Asian countries have been better equipped, in the short term, to manage the pandemic. China, with strong central government controls, had 4,636 deaths reported while USA with strong individual freedoms had 614,007 deaths reported as of June 11 (Statista.com). The total recorded deaths at the time of writing stands at 3,788,943. Remember, the Spanish flu (100 years ago) claimed over 50 million lives before it ran its course.
It seems to me the options we have are (1) give up some of our freedoms and go to command and control type government with high technology to manage the pandemic by individual tracing and containment; (2) go the way of the Spanish flu and risk deaths of over 50 million, until we achieve herd immunity; or (3) vaccinate a significant percentage of the world’s population to hasten herd immunity. Each of these has significant risks.
The risk in the first proposal is that governments do not give up controls easily. So, once given it will be difficult to take them back. The risk of the second proposal is mass poverty, unemployment and shutting down of the world economy. We will be plunged into an economic disaster worse than 1929.
The risk in the third proposal is that we do not know if there could be long-term effects from vaccination with the novel Covid-19 vaccines, which continue to be monitored worldwide.
There is no way forward without significant risk. The question is which risks are we willing to take and what impact will it have on future generations?
Thinking things through
Covid-19 is not a benign disease. In T&T, our death rate seems to be about 2 percent of reported cases, and with a new variant (aka P1, Brazilian or gamma variant) we are seeing younger people die. At this stage, many of us have family members or know people who have died from the disease. This is a horrible experience that we must stop at all costs.
Even those who survive the infection could have ‘long Covid’, even after mild acute infection, and these symptoms include ongoing loss of smell and taste, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, and even depression for more than 12 weeks.
To sit by and allow people to become infected, as a deliberate strategy, is inhumane. This is why Pope Francis said, “to refuse vaccines for Covid is ‘suicidal denial’.” Every human has an ethical responsibility to be vaccinated.
Vaccination prepares the immune system to fight the virus (SARS-CoV-2) by exposing it to important parts of the virus so that when we are exposed to the live virus, we can mount a good immune response against it.
No vaccine completely stops one from getting Covid-19, but those who are fully vaccinated (got their two doses and gave the immune system a full 14 days to respond to the second dose) tend to get milder infection, with less likelihood of hospitalisation and very low chance of death.
Also, those who are fully vaccinated are far less likely to transmit the virus to others and so decrease the spread of infection.
The more of us who get vaccinated, the harder it is for the virus to spread, and the more protection for those among us whose immune systems are compromised (e.g., cancer patients on chemotherapy, etc).
Vaccination of adults also provides a safer environment for our children who cannot be vaccinated in T&T at present, so ensuring that they can go back to schools safely.
It ensures we open the economy as early as possible, giving people the chance to earn and return to life, dignity and rebuilding our nation.
An ethical challenge
Those refusing to be vaccinated are creating a grave risk for the rest of the population, by keeping the virus circulating and increasing the risk of mutations becoming more vicious, both in severity and infection rate.
They put themselves at risk, and as we open up, they would be susceptible, and their children and grandchildren could become carriers.
In a work environment, this will be a new challenge as the unvaccinated will impose burdens on the rest of us to keep restraint and not fully enjoy our freedom. Their choice imposes a burden on all the rest of us.
A second ethical challenge is for all nations to have equal opportunity to receive vaccines. For rich nations to hoard vaccines and throw them away when they expire, while poor nations have no access to them, is a grave moral injustice and a sin against God and humanity.
For the first time, we are facing a challenge that the individual (person or nation) cannot get out of independently. We are all interconnected. We need each other. If the poor nations are not vaccinated, the mutations will get back to the rich nations to repeat this crisis.
Vaccination is a moral responsibility and so all nations and people must have access.
If you are hesitant to be vaccinated, please check your information source. Is it a case of misinformation or disinformation? Or is it credible? Read the Vatican guideline Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, December 20, 2020.