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No alternative to vaccination

Bermuda appears to have survived the second Covid-19 spike that forced a mini-lockdown over Christmas and into this month.

The Government further relaxed restrictions on bars, restaurants and other social activities last week, while ending the curfew. That is welcome news, but it is correct to keep some social-distancing measures in place.

In the meantime, Bermuda is making good progress on vaccinating the population, ranking among the best in the world on a per-capita basis.

Surviving the second infection spike occurred because of relatively quick action by the Government and the continued good sense of almost all residents, who continue to understand that breaking social-distancing requirements puts them and those around them at risk.

Thanks for the rate of vaccination lies first with the British Government, which has ensured its Overseas Territories receive a proportionate share of vaccines to those received in Britain, and second with the local health authorities, who, despite some occasional hiccups, have administered the vaccines available very efficiently.

It is tempting to assume that Bermuda has at long last weathered the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That would be a mistake.

Now more than ever Bermuda must guard against complacency and resist the pent-up desire to go out and behave like it is 2019 all over again.

To a degree, as the Premier admitted some time ago, Bermuda fell into just that mistake last November and paid the price with a huge jump in cases and three more deaths. We cannot afford to make that mistake again.

It should not be forgotten that the last spike occurred because of a small number of superspreader events. It takes only one person with the virus — and they may not even know they have it — to cause infections to soar.

And while vaccinations are being delivered fairly quickly, only 15 per cent of the population has received a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and only 4 per cent are fully inoculated. Progress has been, but there is a long way to go.

Even if Bermuda reaches its target of 33 per cent of the population by the end of March — and it does indeed looks achievable — there is still a long way to go to get to the level of 70 per cent that Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, says is necessary to reach herd immunity, at which point the island would begin to return to something closer to pre-pandemic normality.

In the meantime, it behooves everyone — the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated — to continue to observe social-distancing rules. It is also true that studies are continuing on whether the vaccines only suppress the symptoms of the coronavirus or prevent contraction entirely. It is possible, although it seems recent research suggests this is not the case, that you can still contract Covid-19 and pass it on to others after being vaccinated.

Even so, until Bermuda starts to approach herd immunity, there is no way of knowing who has been vaccinated and who has not. As a result, if some kind of uniformity is not maintained, chaos will ensue.

First, Bermuda needs to get to that point.

Although the number of people being vaccinated is rising steadily, a high level of vaccine hesitancy remains, especially in the Black community.

The historic reasons for this have been well explained, and there is no need to go into them again here. The fundamental question still is, are the vaccines being offered safe?

So far three have been approved for use, and Bermuda has been exclusively using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been shown to have efficacy of 90 per cent or higher with very limited side effects.

Get vaccinated: vaccines that have been approved for use are safe for all but the very few people who suffer from serious allergies (Photograph by Frank Augstein/AP)

A recent column in The New York Times dispensed with the most prevalent myths surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines. Not all of the myths are anti-vaccine: some positive assumptions about vaccines are also exaggerated and it is important to be aware of them.

In summary, Aaron E. Carroll explained in the newspaper that the vaccine does not affect fertility, as some people apparently fear. Nor are the side effects of the vaccine worse than coronavirus symptoms. There can be side effects, but these show the body’s immune system is working.

Work on the vaccines was not rushed and there were no short cuts taken. Much of the groundwork for the vaccine was laid in earlier research on severe acute respiratory syndrome and other coronaviruses. Then “more scientists were probably working on this one thing than have ever collectively focused on any one thing in the history of the world”, according to Mr Carroll.

Fears that the vaccine is not good enough if it has an efficacy of, say, 70 per cent miss a vital point, Mr Carroll adds: “This is a version of the perception problem that the flu vaccine faces every year. People refuse to get it because it’s not ‘good enough’. They miss that it’s ‘good’. The more people who get vaccinated, the more morbidity and mortality we avoid.”

Having said that, it is also important not to exaggerate the benefits of the vaccine, if only because to do so would damage trust later.

Herd immunity is not a total guarantee of normal life. That will not happen until the virus and any variants are fully suppressed. But it won’t be suppressed until herd immunity is reached — and that requires the vast majority of the population be vaccinated.

The facts are that the vaccines that have been approved for use are safe for all but the very few people who suffer from serious allergies.

There is no reason to fear vaccines, but plenty of reason to fear a world where we do not reach the point where most people are vaccinated. The alternative then is a world of needless deaths, endless lockdowns, continual travel restrictions and widespread unemployment.

In other words, there is no alternative. Please get vaccinated. Bermuda and the world depend on it.

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Published February 22, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated February 21, 2021 at 8:06 am)

No alternative to vaccination

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