I ask myself the question- Wasn’t it possible to resolve this vaccine issue without creating the kind of hostility, distrust, divisiveness, and threat to people’s jobs? My answer is yes, for otherwise we would have failed as human beings. I was heartened by the response of the West St. George Secondary School to the threatened loss of jobs by those teachers at the school who were unvaccinated.
Instead of trading verbal blows, vaccinated and unvaccinated teachers had a ‘sit-down’ protest against the vaccine mandate. Individually they had different responses to the vaccine mandate, with some deciding to take the vaccine and others refusing to. But they came together and made their position known. According to a release which seemed to have come through the Teachers Union they declared, “We want the public to understand that we are one body, one unit, one staff, what hurts one hurts all. We cannot sit idly by and allow this travesty to unfold.” A totally mature position to take! I was totally impressed. I must admit as I write that I am unaware of what has happened since.
It would appear, looking at recent figures of vaccinated numbers, that people have been taking the vaccines, maybe not as much as was hoped for but certainly more than was expected three weeks ago. Let us not begin to claim victory for the legislation that mandated the vaccines. It might simply be a pyrrhic victory. The threat of loss of jobs would have forced many people to take the vaccine but would at the same time have left a ‘bitter taste’ in their mouths, filled with uneasiness, dissatisfaction, betrayal, fear, and distrust. For those who would have seen their long time co-workers pushed onto the breadline, there would likely be a diminishing of work commitment.
I looked at an interview by I Witness News of street sweepers at the Town Board who were ‘locked out’ from their work for being unvaccinated. They did not consider themselves frontline workers to whom they assumed the mandatory vaccine instructions applied. In fact, one claimed to have contacted a doctor who said their category of workers was not on the identified frontline workers list. A few of them were in any event not prepared to take the vaccines.
Although convinced about the efficacy of the vaccines I understand the concerns of some of those who refused to be vaccinated. From the very beginning there were mixed messages that needed a quick and adequate response from the authorities in a medium that was effective and people friendly. We first had a small supply of the Russian Sputnik vaccines which the PM and others in their official capacities took. The Astra Zeneca became widely available, but this was followed by claims from some countries of blood clots to users. Many of us felt that once vaccinated we would have been fully protected. Then the word spread that even though vaccinated it was possible to catch the virus and even spread it. But then any illness was likely to be mild not requiring hospitalisation and certainly not resulting in death. Very early the question was asked, would annual boosters be required? In the early stage clear answers were not possible. Then we began to hear about variants and a call for persons over 65 with underlying health conditions to take boosters. Later it changed to all persons being required to take the booster. This was the US’s position with which the WHO disagreed since they realised that there were many countries that did not have access to vaccines for even first shots.
Clearly despite the ongoing work on vaccines for those kinds of viruses there was still a lot that was experimental and had to await further findings. Many persons were confused, particularly as social media was filled with campaigns against the vaccines, very often by persons claiming expertise on the use of vaccines. It is clear that the majority of persons would have had difficulty navigating the messages that were coming out. So, the reluctance of many persons to take the vaccines is understandable. We should have found a way of dealing with these mixed messages from very early.
In the meantime, the country was split apart with the unvaccinated painted as ignorant and selfish while the vaccinated were the righteous ones. This is why what happened at the WSG Secondary school was such a powerful example that might have helped to cool tensions once it was followed up with adequate dialogue, with information passed out in as simple a way as possible. It might not have totally solved the problem, but the divisions would have been limited and with the dialogue continuing the outcome would have been better.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian