by Glen Herbert
“This is a long haul,” Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of SVG, said recently. “Covid is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, maybe for the rest of our lives, and therefore we have to get into the habit of taking the vaccine and then taking boosters for us to get back to normalcy.” It’s unclear what normalcy might be, but given the lack of interest—if not outright refusal—in vaccination, the country is not likely to see it soon. While Gonsalves calls on everyone to take the vaccination, there’s a weariness in his voice, like he’s already given up. “I am just alerting everybody, as is my job, to what are the risks which are ahead and the importance of us to take the COVID vaccine.”
He’s checking boxes when he should be advocating. “I don’t understand why individuals are not taking it,” he says, though, frankly, he should. If he truly doesn’t know, he should be working hard to find out. One thing he’s very clear on is the risk the country faces. “We’re not going to get back to normal,” if the vaccination rates don’t improve, “and the longer this problem of vaccine hesitancy continues, the more difficult the economic situation will be.”
One reason (there are admittedly many reasons) is that people see it as a personal issue, not an economic one. The vaccine is being administered to their arm, after all, and for most the virus seems very far away. They don’t know anyone who has been affected. So, given that there could be a risk, however small, they choose not to accept it, simply because they don’t see that their health is in any jeopardy. Which I get. If someone said “take this pill and it will protect you from alien abduction” I’d say “Yup, no thanks, I’ll take my chances.” For many Bequians, this whole thing is just that—a solution to a problem they don’t perceive. As such, they simply are making the best choices they see based on the information they have at hand. Which isn’t great. Facebook is loud—the misinformation, misleading information, outright rumours masquerading as pure science—and the government largely quiet. The lack of convincing messaging from federal sources only aggravates the problem. Other countries in the region have been more proactive, more consistent, as the long lines at vaccination clinics attest.
The most compelling argument for vaccination, per Gonsalves and others, is for the good of the country. Which is asking a lot, frankly, given that many don’t feel that those in government have extended the same level of courtesy/care, and who, when called, act only in self interest.
And so they wait. The country sent off tens of thousands of doses to be used in Trinidad and Tobago rather than let them pass their stale date. Which was great news for Trinidad and Tobago, to be sure. The world, sadly, is moving on. As I write this, I got my second dose just this morning where I live in Canada, a country that has fewer beefs with the vaccine, and it shows. The clinic I went to was packed. I felt like I was participating in something good, one of many helping to make things better. (Funnily enough, the woman who showed me to my seat was from the islands. It was great to hear that accent.) The population of SVG will say that they have the right to choose, and of course they do. But what are they choosing? What are they advocating for?
by Glen Herbert