Wed | Jan 19, 2022

Garth Rattray | We can’t turn away the unvaccinated

Published:Monday | November 22, 2021 | 12:05 AM
Anti-vaxxers protest against proposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccination during a demonstration organised by Joseph Patterson’s United Independents’ Congress in Kingston on September 22.
Anti-vaxxers protest against proposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccination during a demonstration organised by Joseph Patterson’s United Independents’ Congress in Kingston on September 22.

My interest was piqued by the prime minister’s announcement that “the Government will ultimately have no choice but to allocate a finite set of resources to managing COVID-19-related hospitalisations, including a fixed number of beds. We cannot continue to dedicate virtually the entire capacity of the health system to dealing only with COVID-19 to the detriment of other health system users…”

However, healthcare providers have an ethical obligation to care for the sick, despite administrative decisions and national announcements. If, for example, an officer of the law and a criminal gunman exchanged gunfire, and both were seriously injured, and ended up together in the same emergency room (ER) at the same time, they will be objectively triaged. If the gunman is found to be more seriously injured, he will be the main focus of the ER team’s attention until he is stabilised or operated on. Medical ethics demands that the police, the person who defends our lives, will be forced to wait until the potential killer is taken out of mortal danger.

Here is another example. If someone attempts suicide, fails and ends up in the ER, he/she will be triaged. That means that, if other very ill patients are waiting but are deemed to be less critical, they will have to wait until the person who attempted suicide is taken out of immediate danger. In other words, the patient who wants to die will be saved, perhaps by using up precious resources that are needed for those who want to live.

The prime minister is perfectly right in lamenting that “… significant scarce resources were being spent to treat persons in hospitals who have contracted COVID-19, of which 98.6 per cent were unvaccinated”. And that “… it was unfair to many Jamaicans who have been waiting to undergo surgery for other types of chronic illnesses, but had been in limbo owing to the number of bed spaces occupied by persons who contracted the virus”.


I have many patients who are suffering because the health system is significantly overburdened with COVID-19 patients. I have patients with cancerous tumours who have been on waiting lists for an inordinate time. Since they cannot afford private medical intervention, they must wait, and their lives are endangered, all because of this pandemic. I have many patients with major problems with essential organs who are suffering, fretting, waiting, and deteriorating, all because our population is significantly undervaccinated.

Our healthcare system becomes nightmarish during COVID-19 spikes. However, given the availability of several vaccines, the suffering and deaths are unnecessary. Deciding not to become vaccinated puts those individuals at risk and, in so doing, causes the entire healthcare system to fail at adequately caring for others in need of medical attention. Attaining herd immunity through infections (and not injections) is fleeting, and comes with the high price of many deaths.

I need to point out the physical and psychological stress that the unvaccinated, who become (unnecessarily) sick enough to need hospital care, is putting on our healthcare professionals – our unsung heroes. Many of them have contracted COVID-19 while caring for others. Many of them are physically and psychologically exhausted and have been running on fumes for many months. Many have been conscripted from their speciality areas to help in the effort to save lives.

Since the advent of COVID-19, all and sundry have read social media posts, absorbed all sorts of so-called ‘research papers’ by God knows who, checked the Internet for the opinions of questionable, self-professed ‘experts’ and suddenly consider themselves – from science professors, research scientists, virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists, public health experts, infectious disease geniuses, pathologists, internists, emergency care consultants, intensive care specialists, physiologists, pulmonologists, to cardiologists and statisticians.


Despite all the negative hype on the vaccines, you need to ask yourself this question: How many people have died from taking this vaccine in Jamaica? The correct answer is nobody, so far. People have died after being vaccinated but, to date, no deaths have been caused by the vaccine. Sadly, people die from many causes, all the time. We will eventually have vaccine-related deaths, because all vaccines can have side effects and complications. This holds true for all of the medications that we take, and also for several bush medicines.

Also ask yourself this: How many people, in Jamaica, currently dying from COVID-19 were fully vaccinated (that is, received the requisite number of doses and had enough time for them to alert the immune system)? The answer is none, so far. Eventually, there will be breakthrough, serious infections and deaths; this is the nature of the beast.

So, since the vaccines are not killing us here in Jamaica, and since the vaccines are preventing serious sickness and death from COVID-19, why not take them? Billions of doses have been given over, only several months ago worldwide. Compare that to other vaccines that have been spread out over many generations. If billions of doses of other vaccines were given over several months, they would not fare any better.

The Government cannot turn away the unvaccinated, and it may have to resort to lockdowns if things get very bad. Vaccines are essential for reducing morbidity and mortality numbers, but the key to controlling COVID-19 is prevention. Much more hands-on effort needs to be placed on wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand sanitation.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and .