US doctor’s vaccine views cause airwaves controversy
A broadcaster has defended repeated airings of an American doctor’s criticism of the coronavirus vaccine.
Glenn Blakeney, the owner of Inter-Island Communications and a former Progressive Labour Party Cabinet minister, said yesterday that his station, Magic 102.7, was committed to informing the public.
Callers to The Royal Gazette this week said the broadcast of an interview with Milton Brown, which has aired three times, could stoke fears over getting the Pfizer-BioNTech jab — especially in the Black community.
David Burt, the Premier, earlier said that the Government aimed to reduce “vaccine hesitancy” among Black people, who have shown lower registration numbers for the vaccine.
Last night a Ministry of Health spokeswoman said the Government was “aware” that the broadcast had caused concern — but that people needed to focus on facts rather than opinions.
“We welcome constructive dialogue on the very real issue of vaccine hesitancy, and certainly respect all individual opinions,” the spokeswoman said.
“We would, however, ask that all residents, and especially those who may not have decided to get the vaccine as of yet, avail themselves of the factual information that is on the government website.”
But Mr Blakeney, who said he may air the interview more times because of the demand, added that Milton Brown, from George Mason University, in Virginia, had highlighted under-reported questions about the vaccine.
Mr Blakeney added he planned to “wait and see” before he got the vaccine.
He added: “Never say never.
“The main point is, when they say it’s 95 per cent effective, they don’t know how long.
“They’re only about halfway through clinical trials. Dr Brown says there has been no Food and Drug Administration approval. What we have is emergency use.”
Mr Blakeney said his company also broadcast the Government’s Covid-19 announcements and wanted to provide balanced coverage.
He added Dr Brown’s interview had been aired three times because of demand from listeners who wanted to hear a different perspective.
Dr Brown, a physician who also holds a degree in synthetic chemistry, told The Royal Gazette yesterday: “I promise that I am not anti-vaccination.
“I believe in vaccines – I have taken many, even the shingles vaccine. My girls have gotten the HPV vaccine. I am not against them.
“I am against people being simply told these shots will be effective in them.”
Dr Brown said that “health disparities” in people of African descent meant they could be hit harder by Covid-19.
He added: “Of course It concerns me. We’re getting more infected and dying faster.
“But I’m also worried we are not giving people something that entirely works. That does not mean it’s not going to work.”
Dr Brown said that for Black people in the US, as well as Bermuda, “the trust is not there” in the medical establishment.
The physician, who has relatives and friends on the island, said his “one message for Bermuda is, please wear your mask”.
He added: “Stay away from this virus. Wash your hands. Socially distance. Get tested. If you do this, you will be safe.
“I’m not against the vaccine — I will evaluate this in another six months.”
Mr Blakeney said there had been no complaints from the Government or doctors over the broadcasts causing people to avoid the jab.
He praised the Government’s efforts to combat the pandemic and said there was “no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive”.
Mr Blakeney added he wanted the public to be “critical thinkers” and would air other views on Covid-19 if they met broadcast criteria.
Dr Brown said the jury was still out on whether the vaccine stopped infection or transmission of the virus and that people who got vaccinated might stop wearing a mask.
He added the vaccine trials had shown there was no defence against the “cytokine storm” effect, caused by an overreaction of the body’s immune system that had caused some of the worst cases of Covid-19.
Dr Brown said: “For people who choose to get vaccinated, more power to you.
“Thank you for participating in the great experiment.”
But he added he was against it being presented as “the saving grace for our society”.
The Ministry of Health spokeswoman said that the Pfizer vaccine had been tested on nearly 45, 000 people in trials.
She said: “The results show that this is an effective and safe vaccine. We don’t know how long immunity lasts — that is because the vaccine is new — so you can’t measure the length of time yet.
“But we do know that it is 95 per cent effective preventing serious disease if a person is exposed.”
She added that the vaccine had been approved by health watchdogs in Britain, Canada and Europe, and by the World Health Organisation.
“Globally, vaccines save millions of lives each year and prevent countless more from contracting a variety of viral diseases,” she said.
“Indeed, the only human disease ever to be eradicated — smallpox — was by vaccination.
“After clean water and good sanitation, vaccination is the single most important action an individual can take to protect themselves and their loved ones, and this has never been more important as we seek to reduce the social, economic and health impacts of the Covid-19 onslaught.”