Last night I was watching a rather subdued debate on an Indian TV channel that prides itself on being less cacophonous than the others. I was relieved that the tone was a departure from the usual riotous, rabble-rousing discussions on other channels I was subjected to earlier in the week. It was also different because the anchor injected an air of suspicion mid-way into the talk show. This aroused my curiosity. The topic — vaccinations — and the seasoned anchor and journalist wore his best serious demeanor on his signature show.
He seemed to know everything about the technique of getting jabs into arms and was asking doctors on the panel: why delay a third booster dose when other countries are doing it? Would we be spared the third wave? Why them and not us yet? “We have plenty of stock. They would be useless if not used before the expiry date, so let people who can afford them pay and get jabbed,” he said with righteous indignation. The fear factor always works in such situations but the doctors didn’t take the bait. However, one of them said it was a moral duty to vaccinate all eligible members of the population first.
The ‘expert panel’ set up by the government could decide on rolling out a third booster dose for enhanced protection from coronavirus, he said. The discussion ended sans agreement. An impatient anchor with little practical medical knowledge versus the experts. Neither was the journalist convinced about the arguments put forth by the panelists nor were they clear about the direction to take on vaccinations because policy is in the government’s domain. I switched off feeling more irritated and confused than ever about the course of Covid vaccinations.
Meanwhile, experts in the US are making noise about breakthrough infections among people even after taking the third booster dose. A Wall Street Journal survey found 1.89 million cases after people were fully vaccinated in the US. It also found 72,000 hospitalisations and 20,000 deaths. MRNA vaccines like from Moderna and Pfizer have been more effective (in trials) released by the companies but protection wanes after six months, they claim. Traditional inactivated vaccines are less potent against the pathogen and their efficacy fades after six months.
So what’s the big deal? Vaccines with robust and less robust responses are still working in preventing people from falling severely sick and dying from the dominant Delta and other variants. The media, represented by the anchor on the show, was pointing to other countries and was asking the wrong questions, I felt. The size of the country and the spread of the population are factors they choose to ignore in the pursuit of answers to the raging crisis of our times.
But it is true that the unvaccinated are fueling this phase of the pandemic that could well be on its last legs if only human folly and ignorance don’t get in the way of a good vaccination drive. Experts are calling it the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’. Europe is going viral again with many people refusing to get jabbed. Some countries like Austria are going into lockdowns to stave off another wave of infections and deaths.
This brings me to the moral dimension raised by the doctor on the panel which should also be the priority for governments and is the practical medical solution to end the worst health crisis of the modern era. They can take inspiration from the UAE that has focused on getting most of its adult population double vaccinated and is now close to the 100 per cent mark. Vaccines are not mandatory in the UAE but it is advisable for access to facilities on the path to normality. This common-sense approach sets the UAE apart from other countries that have complicated their vaccination campaigns with flawed messaging and advisories.
It doesn’t help that developed countries in the West are procuring vaccines and treatments for their own people while ignoring the common global good. Pandemic fatigue is palpable and people want to get on with their lives like before. They will and they can if they voluntarily accept the jabs. Vaccine hesitancy is almost negligible in low-income countries than in the West that parrots freedom and has decided to party prematurely as anti-vaxxers run riot.
Vaccine distribution to low-income countries and communities is vital to prevent the resurgence of the virus, Jerome Kim, an expert from the International Vaccine Institute told me some weeks ago. It is a global moral duty to vaccinate all adults with the first two doses. Excess vaccines in countries should be distributed to other parts of the world where populations haven’t been covered by the two-dose regimen yet. For those in high-income Europe who are protesting fresh lockdowns and vaccine mandates, there’s a price to pay for dragging out the campaigns when they have enough doses in stock. They better be quick with the first two vaccine shots than be ‘dead or cured’ from the virus.
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