Michael Abrahams | My housekeeper is unvaccinated, and her job is safe
Every family member in my household, with the exception of my youngest child, who is nine years old and is ineligible, is fully vaccinated. My housekeeper, Andrea*, who lives in, is not. Sometimes when I tell people this, they respond with shock or...
Every family member in my household, with the exception of my youngest child, who is nine years old and is ineligible, is fully vaccinated. My housekeeper, Andrea*, who lives in, is not. Sometimes when I tell people this, they respond with shock or bewilderment. They ask me why I allow her to be in the house with my family. My response is, “Why not?”
COVID-19 vaccination has become a contentious issue. A person’s vaccination status has become a reason for scorn and even dismissal from the workplace. According to a recent Insider poll conducted in the United States, one in five Americans are avoiding loved ones because they are not vaccinated. But is the avoidance and the division necessary?
People decline vaccination for different reasons. Some are ridiculous, such as the belief that vaccines insert tracking devices into your body, or that they will transform you into a robot. On the other hand, some reasons are understandable.
Regarding Andrea, she is not a COVID-19 denier. In fact, she takes it very seriously. She sanitises her hands often and never leaves the house without her sanitiser. She often wears a mask when she is in the house, and if any one of us enters the dwelling and does not remove our shoes and leave them at the door, she raises an alarm. I would like her to get vaccinated because I think it would be in her best interest. I explained that her age and the fact that she is above her ideal weight are risk factors. I also explained that being unvaccinated, if she contracts COVID-19, the risk of her becoming very ill is greater than if she were.
She understands the potential benefits of vaccination, but she has concerns. Although there is a lot of research and rigorous testing regarding the vaccines, they have not been in general use for a long time and the technology behind the ones now available in Jamaica is different from the vaccines we have grown accustomed to. Therefore, we cannot tell what the long-term effects of the vaccines will be, and she is concerned about that. She is also afraid of the possible side effects, and told me of someone she heard of who was vaccinated and became unwell after. I told her that the likelihood of COVID-19 affecting her severely is greater than the risk of the vaccine making her ill. I asked her what she thought would happen if vaccination was mandated and she was forced to take it, and she told me that she would probably faint. Her main reason for declining vaccination is not stupidity or ignorance. It is fear. And fear is real.
I have my own fears. With respect to COVID-19, I fear it more than I fear the vaccines. I have lost several people to COVID-19, and I see patients and have friends who had COVID-19 months ago and have still not recovered. But for Andrea, she fears the vaccine more. I have learnt that fear is subjective, and that someone’s fears should not be rubbished. Different people fear different things. For example, I love snakes and I keep a five-foot ball python at home. In my opinion, it is a beautiful creature, and I handle it regularly. Andrea is scared to death of it. On the other hand, if a flying roach glides into the room, I am out of there, running like a scared little child, while Andrea would be unfazed.
In medical school, I was taught that health is physical, mental, and social well-being. If Andrea is forced to take the vaccine, it would likely assist her physical health by making her less likely to collapse from COVID-19. However, the anxiety it would induce would affect her mental health, and if we were to shun her for being unvaccinated it would affect her social well-being.
During our conversations I have been open and honest with her. There is no coercion or fearmongering, but lots of empathy. I told her that the potential benefits of vaccination for her outweigh the potential risks. I also told her that if she suffers any adverse effects and needs medical care, I will cover all her expenses. And there is something else I told her, and it is that I probably present more of a threat to her than she does to me. Being unvaccinated, research has shown that if she were to become infected, she is likely to carry the virus longer than someone who is vaccinated. On the other hand, she spends most of her time in the house, while I am in and out every day. Not only that, but I am also a healthcare worker, and almost daily I visit my office or a hospital – places where ill people are gathered. I am fully vaccinated, but I can still catch the virus from outside and take it home.
During a recent conversation, Andrea told me that she has decided to get vaccinated. She has reached a place where she is more comfortable, and I am okay with that. This is a rough time for all of us. Many of us are not at a good place mentally. I support vaccination for COVID-19, but forcing people against their will is not a practice I support.
*Name changed to protect identity
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @mikeyabrahams.