Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Orville Taylor | Shukriya India for the vaccine

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2021 | 12:29 AM

Unless ginger and turmeric, the proven immune boosters, are literally what colour the prince’s hair, then the royal pain and drama are inconsequential in our fight against COVID-19 right now.

The United Kingdom is having major problems and despite administering around 24,000 vaccines, it has more than 4.2 million cases and rising. Around 125,000 Britons have died from the pandemic, the country is relatively isolated with thousands ‘confined to barracks’ in a country where the only exit seems to be at the end of the word Br(exit).

We are fortunate to not be in lockdown mode but the numbers are scary, with around 30,000 cases currently, around 4,000 new cases since Sunday, and 611 recoveries up to Friday. We are playing catch-up. Our health minister is one digit from turning his first name into ‘crisis’ and must now demonstrate how much of a Tufton he is. Call a shovel the spade, but the pandemic was worse than the Government anticipated. So, as it justifiably soaked up praises in the first months of the pandemic, it has to take it on the chest and keep the ball alive. Hospitals are full, the coffers empty, with coffins on the shelves due to the pause in burials.

Keep mine right there, because I will do everything to avoid getting COVID-19. Doubtless, we are not on top of the situation. Last checks with all the major hospitals indicate that all COVID-19 beds are occupied. Indeed, despite the University Hospital of the West Indies, the number one institution with seasoned epidemiologists and other medical experts, preparing its field hospital in anticipation of the surge, the system is on the verge of being overwhelmed.

MISGUIDED VIEWS

Doctors and nurses have died, police officers and soldiers got infected, colleagues on the plantation at Mona have had brushes with death, and friends and relatives of close friends who have not travelled out of Jamaica in years have transitioned. Yet, the naysayers are true ‘neigh sayers’. These horseheads have parties going on, small businesses allowing customers to walk in unmasked, some allow their staff to go without, and the occasional daredevil is facing down the police, who themselves risk further infection, when they attempt to arrest. Behavioural change has to come, but until that happens, we have to use social control and law enforcement backed up by swift medical interventions.

At present, some 30 per cent of Jamaicans indicate an unwillingness to take the vaccine, but that might change when more arrive and COVID-19 deaths invade more households. Then, there is some misguided view that the Indian vaccine is a substandard, ‘Third World’ product.

Far from the truth, despite the disparities in wealth and human welfare in that country, India has been one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations for at least 40 years. Apart from being the sixth nation to have nuclear capabilities, it is has driven a large part of global technology growth. Currently, Mastercard, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe and Google have Indian chief executive officers, who got their foundation training in India. The country’s highly competitive universities reject hundreds of applicants annually, who eventually end up ‘settling for’ Ivy league universities, including the vaunted Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Indeed, you are probably reading this from an Indian-based tablet or phone and watch your news on less-expensive televisions with newer names. Moreover, the pricier name-brand appliance you are using might be also manufactured in that country.

EXPERIENCED DRUG MANUFACTURER

India is not a fly-by-night drug manufacturer. United States and European Union have complained that Indian pharmaceutical industry earned more than US$25 billion from exports in pre-COVID-19 to these ‘highly regulated markets’. It has clearly been doing something right. Before COVID-19, it long had the capacity to research, produce and reproduce vaccines of high quality and low costs. It is more capable of mass-producing any drug than the USA and UK. Therefore, it can more readily share to the other dark-skinned countries in the Commonwealth.

We might have forgotten that India revolutionised the production of antiretroviral drugs, and by the 1990s made viable inexpensive alternatives. Read about the work of Dr Yusuf Hamied in this fight and victory. India saved the world from losing the AIDS war; it can replicate.

Now, several countries have paused or reduced their distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccines, over blood clot concerns. Apart from the statistical risks being small, Jamaicans have long developed immunity to those two words, except when uttered defiantly to police officers enforcing COVID-19 regulations.

Finally, our history and culture have long been intertwined with India. As many as 30 per cent of us, excluding two Miss Worlds, may have Indian DNA. Our ‘bandana’ is Madras cloth, all our mangoes are ‘east Indian’, and Indian-grown callaloo was more flavourful than African-grown when I lived in Waterhouse. Still, we may reasonably ask if there is a political or economic quid pro quo.

However, do the Chinese, Americans or Europeans expect nothing when they help us? So, whether it is altruism or an attempt to ‘curry’ favour with us, I say, “ Shukriya (thank you) India!” After all, I am back to the healing effects of the Indian turmeric-based spice.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.