Last Saturday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that he is prepared to be among the first to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available in Antigua and Barbuda.
The announcement by the prime minister is important as there will very likely be resistance in some quarters by people who are unwilling to accept the vaccine. His decision, it would seem, is designed to broaden the appeal of the vaccine among the Antigua and Barbuda population.
This move is also the hallmark of a responsible leader who is prepared to take charge of the domestic aspect of this international crisis from the front.
Beginning the campaign for public acceptance of the vaccine may appear unnecessary to some, but given the abounding conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus we can only reasonably conclude that the importance of this campaign is all the more critical if there is to be a general willingness of people to be inoculated.
Antiguans and Barbudans have for years been consumers of a steady diet of American news and other information. With a great number of Americans still convinced that the coronavirus is a hoax, there are also those among us here at home who likewise reject the need for a vaccine and it appears that there is very little anyone reasonable voice can say that will sway the position of these people.
It is shocking the number of Antiguans and Barbudans who subscribe to the coronavirus conspiracy theories, most of all because these are the people who are likely to be the most vocal opponents of the inevitable inoculation campaign.
The undisputed fact is that Antigua and Barbuda, and the rest of the world, has welcomed the news of the development of at least two vaccines which will become available worldwide by the first quarter of 2021.
We also welcome the announcement from Cuba that it too is near to launching its own coronavirus vaccine. Despite its relatively small size Cuba, which has the highest number of medical practitioners per capita in the world, has established itself firmly as a leader in international humanitarian efforts, especially in the medical field. Therefore it is almost guaranteed that Cuba will make their vaccine available to its neighbours in the region at affordable prices.
Cuba has warned, however, that the US’s six decade long economic blockade of the island is hampering its progress towards finalising the vaccine.
With Antigua and Barbuda’s economy being so heavily reliant on tourism, the country is anxious for the arrival of the vaccines so that life may return to normal.
We need our hotels and sea ports to reopen to tourists so that our families and friends can go back to work.
Our hope is that when the vaccine becomes available, society by then will be better educated on the subject, abandon the conspiracy theories and welcome the return to normalcy. By doing so we will all play a critical role in protecting ourselves, our families and our economy.
The prime minister has signaled his willingness to take the first vaccine if necessary. It is now the time for other community leaders and influencers to step up and do the same.
Our political leaders, athletes, media personalities, religious leaders and educators should partner with our medical practitioners to ensure that the wider community appreciates the importance of being vaccinated.
Last weekend, dozens of people were arrested by the police for violations of the curfew. Most people accept the need to establish and maintain the curfew and health protocols in the fight against COVID-19, however we also appreciate that after more than eight months in a State of Emergency more than a few of us are suffering from ‘COVID-19 fatigue’.
Humans are social creatures and adhering to the protocols has minimised the social interactions we are accustomed and often take for granted.
The desire for a return to normalcy should serve as an incentive for everyone to accept the vaccine. This one of the surest ways of ensuring that life, as we once knew it, will return to normal.
The responsibility lies with us, individually and as a nation, to take the vaccine when it becomes available. Doing so is in our collective interest.