The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Dr. Colin V. Alert
Some years ago, a popular calypso singer wrote a song suggesting that there were two ‘Barbadoses’. While this popular song came out many years before this current pandemic, one wonders whether this COVID virus has reopened the debate.
In the Barbados where I live and work, COVID is rampant in the population, where the rate of new cases tops the world’s average.
Our health workers, reinforced by staff from China, Cuba and Ghana, have been working around the clock for the better part of 20 months, and all indications are that things are getting worse, not better. We have daily deaths, and probably close to 300 new cases every day.
Compared to our Caribbean neighbours, and even compared to the world average, COVID is punching above its weight on our shores. In this version of Barbados, our health and our health care services are on the ropes. COVID may be on the verge of closing down Barbados, by virtue of the large number of daily new cases, and the large numbers of people that need to be isolated, including those who have their daily expenses covered by the government’s purse.
The majority of our health workers, and BAMP, the Doctor’s Association, promote the COVID vaccine. Apart for the reduced chances of becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalisation or even dying, a vaccinated person is less likely to spread the virus to his fellow man, woman or child, increasing the chances of our businesses, schools and churches staying open.
If there are more vaccinated persons in our hospitality industry, more hotels and restaurants can stay open, and more people can be employed. In turn, more tourists can come to our shores, bringing in badly needed tourist dollars. Downstream – taxi-drivers, car rental agents and our vendors are all praying for such a day.
Meanwhile, concerns about making vaccines mandatory and the establishment of safe zones earn the wrath of those who live in the other Barbados. Everyone, they argue, should be free to decline the vaccine, yet the unvaccinated should have the same rights and privileges as the vaccinated, including entitlement to free health care if they contract COVID, the right to increase the demand on our limited health resources, the right to live and work alongside the vaccinated, and the right to free access to zones specifically established to minimise the spread of the virus.
In this version of Barbados, personal rights trump (where have we heard this word before?) public health concerns, and even the rights of health care workers. Personal freedom and choice are paramount. who cares about our fellow citizens and a national agenda?
Unvaccinated persons, by choice, also have rights. But if they get sick, they make more work for our |over-burned medical staff, and put that staff at risk of contracting COVID (and dying). They cause persons with other serious non-covid illnesses, like strokes, heart attacks and motor vehicle accidents, to be pushed to the back of the queue for urgent health care.
Unvaccinated persons, even if they choose to ‘tough it out’ and hope to gain long lasting immunity against covid (available evidence at this time does not suggest that this happens, and a number of persons have gotten serious symptomatic COVID more than once), are more likely to spread COVID to other unvaccinated persons around them, and keep many of their fellow citizens on the breadline. Unvaccinated persons choose personal choice over public health, personal freedom over community welfare.
We have had health care workers die from COVID. Some health care facilities, including here in Barbados, are refusing to treat anyone unless a negative COVID status is confirmed. The ethics of this practice, especially when the patient
(but not the doctor?) is in a life-threatening situation, is still being debated.
In one version of Barbados, this is a prudent attempt at self-preservation; in the other Barbados, this is considered a denial of personal freedom. In one version of Barbados, persons are adamant that the government should not shut down Barbados, even in the face of rising cases and rising deaths.
Just ignore the 122 (and rising) deaths!
“How many more must die?”, asked another calypso singer. Forget the over 14 000 cases, and their families. Forget the workplaces – employers and employees – decimated by COVID.
Ignore the mental, physical and financial suffering of thousands of persons. Don’t even think about the children, whose life trajectories have just fallen into a large pothole. Forget the fact that things are getting worse with ‘warp-like’ speed. Personal choice must prevail under any circumstances.
This COVID pandemic is a life and death matter.
The benefits of being vaccinated, to every individual and to the community, greatly outweigh any side effects that may occur in significant numbers of persons. I hope we ultimately do not have to decide whether we choose to live in one Barbados, or suffer and die in the other.
Dr. Colin V. Alert, MB BS, DM. is a family physician and associate UWI family medicine lecturer.