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By On-Foot Observer

“Consent makes it legal; informed consent makes it ethical.” – On-Foot Observer

“Let us unite and do the thing right. Man and woman, let us join in the fight, and vaccinaaate, let us all vaccinaaate and do not procrastinaaate, but rather let us vaccinaaate!”

I can remember bobbing my head quite a bit to this very catchy and motivational jingle done by Jamesy P for the COVID-19 vaccination roll out in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). It is quite melodic, with a clear message, as can be expected from one of our nation’s finest talents. It is often fun to sing along to as well.

However, some contradicting news from the United States on the AstraZeneca almost caused me to choke on these same lyrics that I like singing so much. It was about President Joe Biden’s plan to share 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries. The explanation given by the US press secretary for this generosity was that their country does not need that particular vaccine in their fight against the Coronavirus, despite reports that U.S. Senior White House officials were worried that the U.S. was still struggling to vaccinate its own citizens.

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The news relayed that while the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all authorised by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, the AstraZeneca vaccine is not. According to US officials, before the United States can even begin to share the 60 millions AstraZeneca doses, they will have to review it for safety. If the AstraZeneca vaccine was never an option for the US’ Coronavirus vaccination drive—as they opt for other brands—why then had they gone ahead and secured as much as 60 million doses, only to utilise none of it themselves?    

Is the AstraZeneca vaccine somehow considered as second rate by United States?

Apart from the US, many countries, particularly those of the European Union have demonstrated their reservations on the vaccine’s safety by suspending its use. It all led me to wonder, if the US is unsure about whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, how did it come to be the primary vaccine being used in SVG, and many other Caribbean countries?

Yes, here on the ground, the AstraZeneca vaccine is being rolled out like the cheapest of carpets in the Christmas season. Our government seems to be way pass safety concerns. This is evidenced by the fact that the vaccine is being offered at all clinics around the country, with polyclinics being open 24 hours a day to facilitate vaccination. Those in authority heartily tout its safety to the Vincentian public with the most infectious confidence. Indeed, Jamesy P neatly captures the unbending assurance that Vincentians have been given in regards to the AstraZeneca vaccine when the line “…the vaccine is safe, it is effective and it will help in the fight against the transmission of the virus within our society so make that choice and get vaccinated today!”

However, whether we would like to admit it or not, we in the Third World use bigger countries like the United States as benchmarks to gauge all areas of our own development. We cannot deny that they are leading us in many respects. How then did we become so progressive and sophisticated that we have outdone them in assessing the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine? Are we really ahead of the United States — a nation way ahead of countries like ours, in many ways and for obvious reasons, with vaccine technology and research being one of them? How did we gain such speed?

Do the populations of our Caribbean nations coincidentally make for ideal sample sizes for first world countries?

Are we a nation of pioneers in this global battle against the Coronavirus pandemic?

The United States’ apparent need to check the AstraZeneca vaccine for safety implies that they do not know the risks involved. Yet, somehow, smaller states like ours knew, and know enough to remain confident in its safety. In fact, the prime minister has been recommending and urging for everyone in the public service to get vaccinated, as a way of ensuring a safe working environment. It has even contemplated to give teachers and other public sector workers the tight ultimatum of vaccinating or testing frequently. So, in sordid irony, the very thing about which one set of nations are unsure, in terms of how safe it is, has itself become a symbol of safety in another nation. Who to believe?

Our country’s vaccination campaign lists the benefits of getting vaccinated as:

— Protection against severe illness

— Strengthening your immune system

— Reducing your risk of hospitalisation.

However, whenever reducing of the chances of infection is mentioned as a benefit, it is never said in any concrete or convincing way. In such a vaccine hesitant climate, one would expect that this very critical benefit would be placed at the forefront of the vaccination campaign.

Why is it not?

To be clear, this article does not necessarily advocate against the AstraZeneca vaccine. What it does is advocate for full transparency, safety and consent—of the informed variety, where vaccination is concerned.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].