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Front Porch: States And Citizens Playing Russian Roulette With Covid

The Bahamas is making progress in the uptake of SARS-COV-2 vaccines by Bahamians. The uptake is consistent and steady. Yet, it is not as good as it can be nor as good as other jurisdictions where citizens are taking vaccinations at a quicker and eager pace.

In some countries citizens are rushing for vaccinations, especially in jurisdictions that have experienced untold dying and horror. Some countries are enduring wave after relentless wave of suffering.

In India, as reported by the BBC, “India’s holiest river, the Ganges, has been swollen with bodies in recent days,” where “hundreds of corpses have been found floating in the river or buried in the sand of its banks. Those who live close to where they have washed up, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, fear they are COVID-19 victims.”

In The Bahamas there appears to be more vaccine fear and anxiety than there is rabid anti-vaccination mindsets and virus denialism, though these mindsets are resident in some quarters, including among some religious fundamentalists and conspiracy mongers.

As many see relatives and co-workers vaccinated with no to few side-effects and more privileges for the vaccinated, more Bahamians are getting vaccinated. This includes Bahamians in their 20s, 30s and 40s, many of whom want to return to work without the requirement of constant and expensive testing.

Russian Roulette “is a lethal game of chance”, “the practice of loading a bullet into one chamber of a revolver, spinning the cylinder and then pulling the trigger while pointing the gun at one’s own head.”

Those who have access to a COVID-19 vaccine but who refuse to be vaccinated are playing Russian Roulette with their lives and health and that of others. Even milder cases of COVID-19 may pose longer term health risks, including effects on the neurological system.

By failing to ensure global equity in vaccine accessibility, the global vaccine powers are playing Russian Roulette with the long-term safety of their citizens and the global citizenry, especially in poorer countries and even middle income countries.

There is a moral imperative to get most of the world vaccinated as quickly as possible. It is also a matter of proverbial enlightened self-interest. Writing for The Bulwark this April, Dalibor Rohac pleaded:

“At the current pace, it may take years to reach global herd immunity. In the meantime, the world will become poorer, sicker, less economically interconnected, and more conflict-prone than it would otherwise be. America should not allow that to happen. …

“The United States ought to commit to vaccinating the whole world this year—not, or not just, as an act of charity but as an act of self-interest and leadership…

“More worryingly, the larger the pockets of the world in which the virus continues to circulate, the greater the potential for new strains, possibly including strains resistant to the vaccines now available.”

VARIANTS

The world is in a frenzied race between vaccinations and new, more transmissible variants of the virus such as the Delta variant that first emerged in India and now the Delta Plus variant. The Delta variant has been found in 80 countries including the United States.

This is the most contagious mutation thus far. Among the unvaccinated it may trigger more serious illness than other variants.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal this past Tuesday: “The highly transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading so rapidly in the US that it could become the dominant strain in the next two to three weeks, researchers said, adding urgency to the nationwide vaccination drive.”

The Journal noted that by mid-July, 50 percent of COVID-19 infections in the US may be the Delta variant. President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned: “The Delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the US to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19.”

Bahamas health officials suspect the Delta variant is in the country because of the number of new cases arising from those who have travelled overseas. The number of Bahamians travelling to the US has significantly increased and continues to rise during the peak summer months of travel.

A travel agent told this columnist that she is seeing a huge uptick in bookings by Bahamians travelling to the US. This obviously includes unvaccinated Bahamians, who are putting themselves and others at unnecessary risk.

There is a disturbing moral selfishness by those who refuse to be vaccinated, who contract the virus overseas, mostly in south Florida, then return to The Bahamas, potentially spreading more dangerous variants.

This is worse than magical thinking. It is stupidity on steroids. There is no mask mandate in Florida, where the virus continues to spread, though not as widely as before. Though not at the astronomical heights of the last major wave in the US, the pandemic rages next door and globally.

ILLEGAL

Let us call this travel by the unvaccinated what it is: selfish, mindless, morally irresponsible, reckless and dangerous! And it is unpatriotic! How can someone claim to love The Bahamas, yet contribute to putting our economy, society and health care system at risk because of unbridled selfishness?

It is illegal to knowingly infect others with the HIV virus. It is also morally reprehensible. Yet, many at risk from COVID-19 are cavalier about their potential to infect others.

Some have warped and poisoned the value of freedom to include the supposed freedom to harm and to potentially kill others by refusing to be vaccinated, while also putting our collective economic well-being at risk.

A good friend notes an exchange with a Bahamian who refuses to be vaccinated but insists the Prime Minister should fully reopen the country. The former replied with an expletive-laden response unprintable in this journal. But he made the point. At some point we have to stop mollycoddling the giddily asinine.

Because of our economic circumstances and the need to reopen, The Bahamas did not have the option to keep our borders closed. As it endured a hellish recent wave, Trinidad and Tobago reinstituted heavy public health restrictions.

When he spoke to the Republic on June 6, Prime Minister Keith Rowley stated that airports and seaports remained closed to foreign nationals, though he also noted: “It is the government’s position that within the next four to six weeks, we would do away with the border closure arrangement system.”

At home, the government continued to balance the reopening of the economy with the continuation of life-saving public health measures.

Only the most disingenuous, led by Opposition Leader Philip Davis and a bubble of partisans, have steadfastly refused to give the Minnis Administration certain credit for its handling of the pandemic on the health care and economic fronts, though many overseas observers have offered commendation.

David Nabarro is a special envoy for the World Health Organization, dealing with COVID-19.

Nabarro echoed the warning of scientific and medical experts: the “issue of variants is what we are watching all over the world … [they] are going to go on coming. We will go from Delta to Lambda and then on to the other Greek letters, that’s inevitable, and some of these variants will be troublesome.”

SUICIDAL

In his weekly column on the Archdiocesan website, the Archbishop of Port of Spain Charles Jason Gordon reflected on the moral imperative for Christians to be vaccinated.

“To sit by and allow people to become infected, as a deliberate strategy, is inhumane. This is why Pope Francis said, ‘to refuse vaccines for COVID is ‘suicidal denial’. Every human has an ethical responsibility to be vaccinated. …

“It ensures we open the economy as early as possible, giving people the chance to earn and return to life, dignity and rebuilding our nation.

“Those refusing to be vaccinated are creating a grave risk for the rest of the population, by keeping the virus circulating and increasing the risk of mutations becoming more vicious, both in severity and infection rate.

“They put themselves at risk, and as we open up, they would be susceptible, and their children and grandchildren could become carriers.

“In a work environment, this will be a new challenge as the unvaccinated will impose burdens on the rest of us to keep restraint and not fully enjoy our freedom. Their choice imposes a burden on all the rest of us.”

Archbishop Gordon also pleaded:

“We will not get out of the series of lockdowns, mask-wearing, social-distancing, and isolation until significant proportions of the planet are vaccinated...”

Amidst geopolitical competition, rivalry and summits, the world powers have an extraordinary opportunity for unprecedented ethical and strategic cooperation on the global existential threat posed by COVID-19.

US President Joe Biden along with Chinese President Xi Jinping should participate in a virtual international conference, along with the leaders of Russia, Germany, France, India, the European Union, South Korean, South Africa, the African Union, the UN and the heads of regional groups such as ASEAN, Caricom and SICA.

The world will not defeat this virus in nationalist isolation. Such a conference, with new international protocols, will serve as a template for other pandemics and for the global climate emergency and the intersection of this emergency with concomitant environmental and public health threats.

The global commons has the capacity to launch the largest worldwide mobilization of manufacturing and distribution power since World War II to vaccinate billions in the quickest timeframe possible.

The vaccine powers have the ability to mobilize their logistical, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and military prowess and power to produce and to deploy vaccines around the world. Middle-income and developing countries like The Bahamas will happily pay for reasonably priced vaccines.

The US alone has capacity to vaccinate the Caribbean and Central America within months. The global powers can vaccinate the entire world within a year or so. The problem is a matter of political will.

The Russian Roulette the world is playing will lead to untold deaths and suffering. The danger for the developed world is this game may lead to a boomerang effect: a super variant that might come back to infect and kill those in their first-world fortresses who celebrated way too soon at home about the supposed end of a pandemic that is not yet over.

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