Mon | Jan 24, 2022

Letter of the Day | The unvaccinated are not all ‘anti-vaxxers’

Published:Saturday | January 15, 2022 | 12:10 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

The prime minister’s now infamous “argument done” statement made last week has since gained viral traction on numerous social media platforms. It serves as the most forceful pronouncement from the Jamaican Government that unvaccinated individuals represent the greatest deterrent to more rapid, positive navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the ensuing days, the digital landscape has seen a resultant intensification of the ostensible witch-hunt against so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’, and tensions between the jabbed and un-jabbed are increasingly palpable. However, if the overarching aim is to have vaccination uptake reach even remotely respectable levels in the general population, is it wise for proponents of vaccination to feed the demarcating beast known as stigma and to generalise the unvaccinated subpopulation as (the arguably defamatory term) ‘anti-vaxxers’?

‘Anti-vaxxer’ is increasingly becoming the automatic label for anyone and everyone who refuses to, or has expressed hesitancy in taking the jab, regardless of the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of each specific individual’s reasoning behind his/her decision.

Understandably, because the vaccinated see vaccines as one of the most significant drivers for ending the pandemic, prolonged delays/refusals from those who may not share their views are a cause for frustration. However, we cannot allow our rhetoric to become abrasive and putrid towards the unvaccinated, many of whom we regard as learned in many other respects. Mutual understanding is seldom, if ever, fostered through conflict.

The truth of the matter is that most persons want this pandemic to be over; where we diverge is how to go about facilitating its cessation. As access to information, misinformation, and the Dunning-Kruger effect increase, the vaccinated must be mindful that their truth will not simply be taken at face value without opposition.

Too many, even some in leadership roles, are hoping to foster herd mentality in order to achieve herd immunity. However, people, unlike cattle, are not often easily led, and effective change cannot be sustainably brought about through fearmongering, stigmatisation, unjust labelling, or a resignation that all who oppose vaccinations are rebellious, uneducated troublemakers.

Progress is often best brought about through dialogue, consistent engagement, and the recognition that mutual understanding is always a better starting point than that of divisiveness.

NOTEWORTHY QUESTIONS

Though most, if not all, of the major concerns the unvaccinated put forth have been addressed on myriad occasions, it is undeniable that if even at face value, they have asked many noteworthy questions.

• Why did the first significant SARS-CoV-2 variants appear to arise around the time that vaccine the roll-out shifted into high gear?

• Why do these variants seem to originate more often in nations with higher vaccination rates?

• Why should it be fair to invalidate the concerns of individuals who have witnessed vaccinated individuals, albeit the minority, suffer adverse negative side effects that have sometimes contributed to even death?

• While it is reported to be more statistically probable to die of the adverse effects of COVID-19 than from becoming vaccinated, how do you justify to those who have suffered deleterious, debilitating illnesses that the vaccine was worth the risk?

• Better yet, how do you justify it to those who have died?

The point of this letter is simple: if the goal is to have more people become vaccinated, we need to stop alienating the unvaccinated, and instead seek to expand both the scope of the conversation and the approaches being utilised to facilitate greater vaccine uptake.

Many of the unvaccinated are operating from a place of fear, and though fear is often a powerful motivator, it tends to be an even greater deterrent.

I myself fear that I have to declare that I too have been vaccinated, just so I may be able to circumvent any assertions that this piece is simply written by another nonsensical ‘anti-vaxxer’.

However, if we truly believe in the efficacy and potential for good that are associated with the vaccines, we should be prepared to continuously push the agenda and not just “done di argument”.

CHRISTOPHER PHIPPS, MPH