By now, worldwide, we should have a reasonable understanding of the meaning of pandemic. Just a reminder that “a pandemic is a disease that spreads across countries or continents. It affects more people and takes more lives than an epidemic”.
At this time we are dealing with COVID-19, which is the illness caused by the new (novel) coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This is a great public-health concern as the spread of the disease is among us, and despite protocols to deal with halting the spread of the infection, it is going in the wrong direction. We hear the daily reports – locally and internationally – of the number of people infected, hospitalised and the deaths. We have been alerted to the profound effect on vulnerable groups, despite the prevention efforts. We are told of the spread (community) and we are told there is as yet no cure. So we are advised to simply take steps to keep the virus at bay and stay healthy, among which are: wear masks, wash hands or use alcohol-based sanitiser, maintain distance, avoid crowded places, and stay at home if we can, clean and sanitise surfaces frequently, if you are feeling sick, stay home.
Pandemics and epidemics are not new to us, they have been present among us, and among our regional and international partners. Historically among them are: Black Death – (25 million died) Spanish flu – Influenza (1918-1919) (50 million died). Smallpox – spread over hundreds of years (300 million in the 20th century). HIV and AIDS (about 32 million around the world). The common flu, as we know, kills many annually despite a flu vaccine. Tuberculosis, despite a vaccine (BCG), continues to kill people worldwide (1.4 million in 2019); poliomyelitis came after children with a vengeance and is still around in countries like Palestine and Afghanistan. Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) and chickenpox cause serious health issues among children, resulting in disability and death.
I am using these reminders of pandemics and epidemics as the background against which to highlight the vaccine mania under way. Among the meaning of ‘mania’ are ‘great excitement or euphoria, delusions and over activity’. The vaccine for the coronavirus, which sent scientists into hyper-action, and is being rapidly produced by leading pharmaceutical companies, among which are the commonly heard of ones, Pfizer–BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-Astra-Zeneca, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, and of course there are the Chinese, South Korea and Russia, all at different stages of development, testing and approvals. “There are currently 59 vaccines in clinical trials on humans and 16 have reached the final stages of testing.” ( The New York Times; COVID-19 vaccines. Coronavirus vaccine trailer updated December 15, 2020).
As a health professional and a member of the vulnerable groups, I have maintained keen interest in the race for a cure for the feared COVID-19. So, it was with a sense of the mania that I watched the roll-out of the vaccine from the factory to the arm of the first recipient – a Jamaican nurse “to the world!” You can therefore understand my dismay that on the same day history was in the making, health workers in Jamaica were spewing negative reaction to the vaccine. People are entitled to their opinion, but when we are in a position of influence, we must be very careful how we portray issues of public safety – such as the vaccine.
TRUST AND LEADERSHIP
The fear of taking the vaccine is a risk which is no different from taking a risk with faith, love, business, and investment, among others. Vaccines are about health protection and health workers must be the voices in this regard. It is no good if people don’t take it. What do we have to lose if we have not lost already? In Jamaica, at the date of writing there are 11,875 confirmed cases and 276 lives lost. Globally, 73.6 million confirmed cases, 1.64 million deaths (plus or minus). Therefore, the breakthrough with the vaccine should be hailed as a scientific feat and a medical marvel.
The fact is conversation surrounding the advent of the coronavirus, the race for a cure and the rapid resultant vaccine got mired in politics rather than public health, and this is worldwide; the most poisonous is in America. Scientists and health professionals were deliberately sidelined to give voice to a president and the enablers. The foreign news crept into the local news and hence we now have local ‘happy talk’ by those who should know better.
The horse has bolted from the stable carrying the negative message about the vaccine. Social-media messages are poisoning the well with information overload of the wrong kind.
Voices of leaders and influencers are urgently needed with coherent messaging to penetrate the psyche, heart and minds of the citizens to prepare for the arrival of the vaccine. I repeat, vaccines are about health protection, but it is no good if people do not take it. The reference to previous vaccines must not be lost. The infections they stopped and the diseases cured are reminders of the value of vaccines.
Vaccine mania – great excitement and euphoria – must be harnessed via campaigns led by gatekeepers of public health, community leaders, leaders at workplaces; directors of agencies, faith-based institutions, educational institutions, among others. Untoward activities and delusions must not trump best efforts to sensitise and prepare people to be ready to avail themselves of the vaccine when it becomes available. We must not lose sight of the fact that the coronavirus is a killing machine which can be tamed by the vaccine. Kudos to the scientists.
Audrey Hinchcliffe is the CEO and founder of Manpower and Maintenance Services Ltd Group. Send feedback to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.