Sun | Sep 26, 2021

Carolyn Cooper | No vaccine for protection from ignorance

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2021 | 12:07 AM

Last Friday, I was lucky to get my first dose of the AstraZeneca anti-COVID vaccine. This was a major accomplishment, requiring nuff stamina. On February 23, a friend emailed a letter from the President of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) stating that anyone over 60 who wanted to be vaccinated should register with the MAJ. I acted immediately.

The next morning, this response came: “This email serves to acknowledge receipt of your request for the COVID-19 vaccine via the google form submitted February 23, 2021. However, concerns have been raised and we have received numerous calls voicing concerns that the letter may not be coming from a legitimate source. We have therefore decided to cease collecting information via this route immediately. The information submitted via the form prior to 4 p.m. on February 23, 2021 will be submitted to the Ministry of Health. The MAJ is not making the appointments.”

I had submitted my request after 4 p.m., so I was not happy about this development. I quickly sent off this email: “Why the arbitrary cut off point of 4 p.m.? Midnight would make more sense. The Jamaican Government’s handling of this pandemic is just one administrative disaster after the other. Surely, we can do better than this!”

I got this response: “It wasn’t a cut off point. Several persons had indicated their concerns in submitting their information via the google form (even though it was secured). As such, we have taken a different approach re: the submission of the information. The Doctors are now contacting their elderly patients to confirm their acceptance, after which, the doctor will forward their information to us.” I gave up on the MAJ.

DI SYSTEM BUCK

On March 8, my sister, Donnette, who lives in the US, sent me the link to sign up directly on the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) website. Right away, I filled out the form. When I got to ‘submit’, di system buck. In frustration, I sent an email to patientcare@serha.gov.jm. I rather optimistically addressed it to the minister of health:

“Dear Dr. Tufton,

I tried several times to submit the form and got no confirmation that it had been actually submitted. Is this how the system is supposed to work? It’s not very reassuring. I’m in the 60+ tier and quite anxious to get on the list. I do look forward to your response.” All now, not an answer! I later realised that the system had crashed. Why were administrators not prepared for this predictable outcome?

I was determined to be vaccinated, so I kept at it. On March 12, I sent an email to the National Council for Senior Citizens requesting registration. A week later, I got a response confirming that only seniors over 75 were being registered. On March 16, I registered with the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre (MAWC) at the University of the West Indies, headed by the formidable Prof Denise Eldemire-Shearer. That same day, I sent an email to the Embassy of Cuba, asking about the possibility of getting one of their vaccines. I’ve had no response.

Then, I started to hear about people younger than me getting vaccinated. When I asked one of them how he got through, his answer was, “Links”. And he made it seem as if I must be very stupid not to understand that I needed to get a link. After all, this is Jamaica. Is ‘contacts’ run tings. I decided I was not brucking no line.

Eight days after registering at the MAWC, I got an urgent call after 4 p.m. asking if I was close by. I could get vaccinated if I reached quickly. It seemed as if there were vaccines at risk of being wasted. So my conscience was absolutely clear. By the time I rushed up to the centre, I was told that there had been a miscalculation. The last vial had just been used. To make up for the disappointment, I was offered an appointment for another day. And I’m alive and well to tell my tale of getting vaccinated without resorting to “links”.

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

Anti-COVID vaccines are designed to help us all get back to some kind of normal life. But many people are afraid of getting vaccinated because of conspiracy theorists spewing pure nonsense. When I told a supposedly sensible man that I’d taken Dr Anthony Fauci’s advice that the best vaccine was the one you could get, he made a preposterous claim. Dr Fauci had invented HIV to make money. Where did he get this? From the Internet! Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine for protection from ignorance.

My recommendation to the minister of health is to commission a national survey to learn exactly why people are afraid of being vaccinated. The minister should then contract comedians and dramatists like Russhaine ‘Dutty’ Berry and Dahlia Harris, who have formal training in media and communication, to produce entertaining public education stories for radio, TV, and social media. This would be much more effective than any conventional marketing campaign.

By the way, whatever happened to the Market Me investigation? It seems to have died an unnatural death. Mek mi lef it! My big concern now is that the Ministry of Health may not get additional supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine in time for those of us who need the second dose within eight-12 weeks. As Dr Tufton so famously said, “Let that sink in!”

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.