Vaccine refusal is as dangerous a pandemic as COVID-19


By Sir Ronald Sanders

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States.   He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto.  The views expressed are entirely his own) 

Vaccine refusal is fast becoming as dangerous to human health and to economies as the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, even before the novel coronavirus was confirmed and began its spread around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that vaccine refusals had led to a resurgence of diseases such as measles in countries that were close to eliminating them.  The WHO identified vaccine refusal as one of the 10 leading threats to global health.  At that time, complacency, inconvenience in access, and a lack of confidence were said to be the driving factors for people’s refusal to inoculate against disease.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the problem has become worse and so widespread that a comprehensive approach by all governments and non-governmental organizations, globally, is now necessary to overcome it.

Promoted on social media platforms by far-right organisations and church groups in the U.S., the anti-vaccine propaganda has spread like wildfire, convincing persons at all levels of societies that they would either die from an inoculation or some harmful material would be injected into their bodies.

Religious groups in the Caribbean, influenced by fundamentalist U.S. churches, also encourage their followers not to vaccinate.  Research done by the New York Times reported, on April 5, that “among evangelicals in the U.S., Pentecostal and charismatic Christians may be particularly wary of the vaccine, in part because their tradition historically emphasizes divine health and miraculous healing in ways that can rival traditional medicine”.  Charismatic churches also attract followers in the Caribbean.

The most popular social media platforms used by anti-vaxxers are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which have all committed to banning anti-vaccine content.  But, accounts on these platforms turn up as quickly as they are taken-down.  In turn, the propaganda, which includes fabricated videos purporting to show actual events, are communicated tens of thousands of times around the world on WhatsApp.

Governments and social media platforms, such as those named in this commentary, as well as organizations such as the WHO and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), must gather specialists together to find ways to counter the anti-vaccination propaganda campaigns and to strengthen educational progammes showing the benefit of vaccines.  PAHO has started using Facebook to educate about the benefits of vaccines, but more effective communications techniques should be used, including dropping huge images of syringes and needles, that may be reinforcing reticence to inoculate.

Groups of persons in many parts of the world, who decline taking the COVID-19 vaccine, now pose a risk to themselves and the people with whom they come into contact, especially their families.  They also pose a risk to the opening-up of the economies of their countries.

Data, gathered worldwide, shows that the claims of the anti-vaxxers, concerning detrimental effects of the vaccine, are wrong.  Figures confirm that the COVID-19 vaccine prevents severe infection and deaths at astounding rates.

Studies show that, in Israel for instance, vaccines prevented hospitalization among adults 65 and older by 94%.  They also prevented symptomatic infection among health-care workers by 97% and blocked severe disease by 97.4% in Qatar.  Dr. Monica Gandhi, an Infectious-Diseases Specialist, and Professor of Medicine at The University of California at San Francisco, reports that serious infections among vaccinated individuals are extremely rare.  She points out that “of over 115 million vaccinated Americans,  only 0.0009% contracted severe COVID-19 after vaccination despite the virus continuing to circulate in their communities. As she concluded: “Vaccines truly defang the virus”.  In the U.S. and Britain where (at the time of writing on 20 May) 48.09% and 55.49% of the populations have been vaccinated, data shows that vaccines also block transmission.

People, who have been inoculated against the coronavirus, are rightly concerned that, despite their responsible action in taking the vaccine, irresponsible persons are asserting their right to refuse it.  The question that has to be asked is:  whose rights are greater?  Are the rights to safeguard lives and livelihood less than the right to put lives and livelihoods at risk by refusing to be vaccinated?   This is not a moral dilemma; it is a common sense question, deserving a common sense answer.

However, no answer is being attempted as individual governments and their health authorities shy away from the question for political reasons.   No ruling political party wants to risk losing electoral support to its rivals on the back of an accusation of depriving people of their rights.  Yet, when that right is upheld, it threatens others and entire societies.  Just as measles has returned in countries where groups of people decline to be inoculated against it, COVID-19 will not be subdued or eliminated in countries where groups of people refuse to be vaccinated.

This conflict must be tackled and resolved by global agreement and action. No one country can act alone. Maybe the answer lies in an intense education programme globally constructed, financed, and implemented.

The mantra that “we’re all in this together” assumes a profound global relevance for maintaining life and sustaining livelihoods.  Doing nothing is not a solution. The 74th World Health Assembly being held from May 24 to June 1, is the ideal place to start.

Responses and previous commentaries:


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  1. Who the hell is this guy Really ?
    Can the real Sanders or whatever his name is step forward .
    Finally learn something in these comments sections .
    What’s this story about him changing his name ?

    • He’s not born Antiguan but sucking poor people dry. Ask how much he makes for doing nothing. But them fools still line up to vote for this shit of a system.
      Hey Ronald take the vaccine for all of us please? That should make up for all the pay you received without working

    • His name is Ran Singh. He has no use for Antiguans. He is sucking the treasury dry. If the real Ron Sanders stand up, what you get is hypocrisy, corruption, mis-information and a man with no conscience. The abuse of Antigua treasury by one man is unimaginable. The PM chose to turn a blind eye but he is a quite aware of what is going on. Yes, he is collecting thousands and thousands of dollars for doing nothing. All this game about dangerous not to take the vaccine is singing for his supper. What is dangerous is having him continue to deplete the treasury.

  2. Where is all this concern for the greater good when it comes to the plethora of other issues like poverty, human traficking, obesity, heart disease, climate change etc. If the same energy was consistent for the aforementioned as it is given for the covid 19, maybe people would actually trust their leaders. These elites dont care any other time so why now??? Keep the same energy for Aids and cancer. Pay people a livable wage! After everyone gets vaccinated the political leaders will continue to turn a blind eye. Y’all do not care about people. We don’t trust you Mr. Sanders, Mr. Browne, and whoever else wants to shoot people up with this global human experimental jab.

  3. Notes From A Native Son Of The Rock!

    To be forewarned is to be forearmed!

    Well Said!

    “No phenomena can be apprehended adequately without locating it first. A phenom must be studied and analyzed in relationship to psychological time and space. It must always be located. This is the only way to investigate the complex interrelationships of science and art, design and execution, … generation and tradition, and other areas bypassed by theory.” – Dr Molefi Asante, Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change!

    Nuff Said!

    A Luta Continua!

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