In late 2020, when a plan was announced to develop vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic at “warp speed”, there was justifiably significant fear and trepidation.
Much of that fear was generated from the antics of former United States president Donald Trump, who viewed the production of the vaccine more as a political cudgel on which to base his re-election fight for a second term as leader of the free world.
The fact that the vaccines were being produced and he align their development to the date of the presidential election in November 2020, made it even more concerning. Trump threw billions of tax dollars at the American pharmaceutical giants to get him a fix that would limit the disease’s spread and concomitantly salvage his re-election bid.
But the fact is, scientists were also motivated by the millions of people who were being sickened by the disease and the hundreds of thousands who were dying. Not only were people dying but businesses and economies were collapsing.
There was a financial, economic, moral, and ethical duty to try to stop or slow the destruction that the coronavirus (COVID-19) was causing on lives and livelihoods.
But so much has changed since late last year. Trump was unceremoniously rejected by the majority of Americans, and the world is eternally grateful for that decision.
Importantly too, the efforts of young black American scientist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and her mentors, along with scientists in the United Kingdom, France, China, and Germany were also collaborating to find a response to quell the pandemic.
That was the good news. Out of their efforts came several vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They include the Oxford AstraZeneca (Covishield), Pfizer, Sinopharm, Moderna, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and the Sinovac vaccine.
The bad news, however, is that the Trump legacy of distrust, half truth, disinformation, political division, and general fears, have all combined to turn the COVID-19 vaccination process into the biggest divisive battle that rivals nothing experience before on a global scale.
Trinidadian/American rapper Nicki Minaj, this week, found herself waist deep in controversy over a statement that could only be described as reckless when she fanned the flames of disinformation by suggesting in a tweet that her cousin’s friend’s testicles swelled after getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in Trinidad and Tobago.
As a result of the global entertainment icon’s statement, health officials in the United Kingdom and the twin-island republic were sent into damage control mode, rejecting Minaj’s “false claim”.
A CNBC report said Trinidad’s Health Minister Dr Terrence Deyalsingh, slammed Minaj’s tweet late Monday to her more than 22 million followers, noting that the ministry went on a wild goose chase trying to track down the poor man she said became impotent and lost his fiancé over the side effects.
“Unfortunately, we wasted so much time running down this false claim,” Deyalsingh said.
“As far as we know at this point in time, there has been no such reported either side effect or adverse event. And what was sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday trying to track down because we take all these claims seriously, whether it’s on social media, or mainstream media,” Deyalsingh was quoted as saying.
Such is our existence in what has been called the “disinformation pandemic” which is causing as much destruction as the COVID-19 disease.
What Minaj’s comments have also done, however, is steer the world’s attention to the Caribbean, which has some of the lowest rates of vaccination in the world.
Moreover, the Delta variant is propelling COVID-19 infections at a rate that is making the Caribbean a most undesirable place to visit at this time.
Dr Joy St John, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has revealed that since the outbreak started in March 2020, more than 300 000 confirmed infections have been reported in the Caribbean and more than 6, 700 people have died from the disease.
Worse yet, between July and September this year, there were more than 100 000 new cases and 1 400 deaths in that brief period. Such is the wave of death and destruction.
CARICOM leaders are rightfully concerned that their nations’ economies are on the precipice and could collapse under the burden caused by the pandemic.
In a statement this week, Caribbean Community leaders said: “CARICOM is strongly urging the people of the community to get vaccinated, as failure to do so puts the health sector at great risk of being overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases.”
What is important for us in Barbados to consider is that we are not close to herd immunity and no nation in CARICOM is near this goal. That situation, unfortunately, is the perfect breeding ground for mutations and variants to thrive.
We continue to urge that a word to the wise is enough.