Michael Abrahams | Some inconvenient truths for the unvaccinated
ONCE AGAIN, our lives are being disrupted by a COVID-19 wave, the fourth since this wretched pandemic began. This surge is being driven by the Omicron variant, the most transmissible to have evolved so far, with local positivity rates climbing...
ONCE AGAIN, our lives are being disrupted by a COVID-19 wave, the fourth since this wretched pandemic began. This surge is being driven by the Omicron variant, the most transmissible to have evolved so far, with local positivity rates climbing above 60 per cent. Fortunately, deaths are not as high so far as during the Delta surge, as the Omicron variant tends to cause symptoms that are less severe.
However, one of the most important metrics to watch during these surges is hospitalisations, and these have skyrocketed. On December 26, 2021, 80 hospitalisations were reported. On January 19, 2022, the number had risen to 577. Our public hospitals are filling up again, and many services are being disrupted. On January 14, 2022, the University Hospital of the West Indies issued a press release telling patients visiting the institution to expect delays, as the designated COVID-19 areas in the institution are at capacity.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can contract and spread COVID-19. However, the vast majority of patients hospitalised for the infection are unvaccinated. When this fact is presented to persons who are unvaccinated, many respond by saying that the majority of Jamaicans are unvaccinated, so that is to be expected.
Yes, the majority of Jamaicans are unvaccinated, but there is a difference. According to current data, approximately 22 per cent of Jamaicans are fully vaccinated. If the vaccines made no difference, the percentage of the hospitalised who are fully vaccinated would mirror the percentage in the general population. But it does not. Only about two per cent of hospitalised COVID-19 patients are fully vaccinated. Conversations with senior colleagues working at the University Hospital of the West Indies, Kingston Public Hospital, National Chest Hospital, Spanish Town Hospital and others have revealed that this is what they are experiencing in their institutions. Not only that, some have informed me that colleagues employed at other public hospitals in rural areas are reporting similar statistics, correlating with international data.
Accepting some inconvenient truths
Many persons resistant to vaccination against COVID-19 take pleasure in pointing out the shortcomings of the vaccines, such as the fact that they do not prevent the contraction of COVID-19 or the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes it; that their efficacies wane over time, especially as newer variants emerge; and that severe, adverse reactions can occur.
We in the medical fraternity have had to take our licks during this pandemic, as even the most brilliant among us have been wrong in our predictions and flawed with our pronouncements. Yes, we have had to accept some inconvenient truths.
Similarly, there are some inconvenient truths for the unvaccinated, too, chief among them is the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines lower the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death. This is a fact. It is not a theory. It is not propaganda. It is not a lie. Local and international data clearly show that they make a difference.
Our health sector has for years been compromised by shortages of nursing staff, drugs, supplies and equipment. So, when our hospitals are overwhelmed as they are now, it has a deleterious effect on many of us. It physically and mentally stresses healthcare workers, contributing to burnout, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The situation also significantly affects persons requiring medical attention. For example, if someone is awaiting cancer surgery, and the procedure is postponed because of the current situation, they are at risk of the cancer spreading by the time the operation is eventually performed. If someone is awaiting hernia repair and has to put off their operation, there is a risk of the hernia becoming incarcerated, a situation in which the bowel can become trapped, leading to bowel obstruction, gangrene and even death.
An overburdened health sector
So here is another inconvenient truth for the unvaccinated, if you have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, you are part of a segment of our population that is overburdening and stressing our health sector and adversely affecting the health of others. Your decision to remain unvaccinated has the potential to affect others. You may not like to hear this, but it is a factual statement.
People are unvaccinated for different reasons, some of which are rational and reasonable. For example, if a healthy, young person recently contracted and recovered from COVID-19, they have a good reason to be unvaccinated at this time. If someone has multiple allergies and a history of severe allergic reactions, or if they are afflicted with certain medical conditions, the risks of vaccination may outweigh the benefits for them.
However, among the unvaccinated are a group who are obstinately and militantly defiant, even in the face of evidence that being vaccinated may benefit not only them, but many of their fellow countrymen. I have heard people say they will “never take the vaccine”. In my opinion, this statement smacks of arrogance and selfishness. It implies that even if they are faced with evidence that by being vaccinated they may reduce the burden on our health sector, they will still not do it.
I support the right of people to make informed decisions regarding their health, and I reject the concept of mandatory vaccination for COVID-19. But as a member of the medical fraternity seeing this much morbidity, much of which is preventable, affecting us, I am frustrated with the high level of resistance, especially among older adults who have never had COVID-19 and also have certain comorbidities, which would increase their risk of hospitalisation if they acquire the infection. Even more upsetting is seeing those who not only refuse vaccination, but who also constantly spout narratives to discourage others from doing so, potentially placing them at risk.
We must understand that the decisions we make can affect others. We are all in this together.
Dr Michael Abrahams is a medical doctor. Email feedback to email@example.com