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Pfizer authorisation is a good reason to get vaccinated

Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine has been fully approved for use in people over the age of 15. (Illustration by Peter Hamlin/AP)

The news that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for full use should be welcomed.

Bermuda has been fortunate to have received the vaccine in large amounts from Britain, as a result of which 65 per cent of the population is vaccinated, and this is the primary reason the island has avoided an even worse spike from the Delta variant.

In recent weeks, the Government has changed its description of vaccination rates from 65 per cent of the whole population to 75 per cent of the eligible population. Arguably, this sounds better and avoids the uncomfortable admission that the island has failed to hit the 70 per cent vaccination level originally targeted as being sufficient for herd immunity.

But even if the higher number is accepted, it still means that one in four eligible recipients has chosen not to be vaccinated. A small number will be unable to have it for legitimate health reasons.

One of the more understandable reasons given for not getting vaccinated has been that all of the Covid-19 vaccines are being given under an emergency authorisation, which has been taken to mean that the vaccine’s safety is not yet fully proven.

This justification has now been removed, at least for Pfizer.

This will not be enough for those who will refuse the vaccine no matter what. But surveys in the US and elsewhere have indicated that a substantial portion of the hesitant would be willing to take it once it had full authorisation.

They should now get vaccinated, for their own good and everyone else’s.

All of the evidence shows that vaccinations remain the single most effective means of containing the coronavirus, followed by social distancing.

It is not a miracle cure and will not completely prevent getting the virus, especially the Delta variant, or from transmitting it. And it may well be that the vaccinated will require a booster shot, which is not unusual in medicine.

But the evidence suggests that far fewer people are likely to get the Delta variant if they are vaccinated. Within the Bermuda community, three out of four active cases from local transmissions are unvaccinated. At the same time, they only make up 35 per cent of the population. That alone shows how much more likely non-vaccinated people are to test positive.

Some opponents of vaccines will point to the airport where the numbers are reversed — about three quarters of those who test positive are vaccinated. But this ignores that about 90 per cent of all arriving passengers are vaccinated.

As a result, a non-vaccinated passenger is almost five times more likely to be carrying the virus than a vaccinated passenger. This was explained very well in Monday’s Royal Gazette.

So far in the present spike, Bermuda has been fortunate to have had no more than three people in hospital at any one time. (That number increased to five after last night’s update.)

Assuming that this outbreak spread as a result of gatherings around Cup Match, it may be that symptoms will begin to show now, particularly as a higher proportion of older people are testing positive for Covid-19.

In any event, most of the reporting on the Delta variant shows that people who are vaccinated and get Covid suffer less severe symptoms or none at all. If Bermuda actually had herd immunity, a vaccinated person could give it to another vaccinated person with neither experiencing any symptoms and this may well happen in most cases.

But if a non-vaccinated person was then infected, there is a higher risk they would experience severe symptoms, especially if they were already vulnerable.

This is why it makes sense for as many people as possible to get vaccinated and if people were previously hesitant to get the vaccine because it had only an emergency-use authorisation, that doubt should now be dispelled.

People have any number of reasons for not getting vaccinated, some more valid than others. People below the age of 50 have been the most reluctant to get the shot, in some cases perhaps believing that their age means they will be less severely affected. To a degree they are right. But 20 per cent of the 33 people who have died in Bermuda have been aged between 40 and 59, and many younger people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have suffered the consequences.

If we understand one thing from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that no one can say with absolute certainty what the future holds. But it cannot be wished away, either. Bermuda has to take the facts before it and make decisions in the best interests of the community. Vaccinations present the best opportunity to return to near normality. Everyone who can should get vaccinated — for their own sake and for the sake of the rest of the community.

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Published August 25, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated August 24, 2021 at 6:04 pm)

Pfizer authorisation is a good reason to get vaccinated

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