Barbados: Following the Science on Covid 19?
Submitted by Tee White
The recent statement by the representative of the DLP calling on the government to initiate a ‘pause for the cause’ and a response from the current BLP government for the DLP to get on board with the effort to persuade Bajans to be vaccinated has once again highlighted the challenge facing the country with regard to managing the Covid outbreak and protecting the population as best possible.
One mantra that has become synonymous with Covid 19 is the declaration to “follow the science”. But this declaration presents science as a body of knowledge which tells you what to do in any situation. However, what it misses is that more importantly, science is a method which human beings use to try to get a better understanding of how the natural and social worlds work so as to work out what to do. Unfortunately, this understanding of science as method is lacking from the government’s response to the Covid crisis. It is a feature that is common across the Caribbean, where government policies are simply copied from abroad, usually North America and Europe, and are not informed by any scientific studies conducted by Caribbean scientists on the actual impact of Covid 19 in the Caribbean.
But without such an approach, there will be no exit from the Covid crisis. Due to the struggles of our ancestors and Errol Barrow’s government, the descendants of the enslaved Africans in this country were given mass access to secondary education. Today, more than ever, we need to draw on our ability to think critically and question everything, to make sense out of nonsense, to find our bearings in the current situation.
Under pressure from local and global elites, the government has embarked on a policy of persuading Bajans to engage in mass vaccination in the hope that this will lead to an exit from the Covid 19 nightmare. To its credit, it has not succumbed to the pressure to embark on the insane policy of vaccine coercion, which is taking hold in the region and which is exemplified in Guyana, Antigua and St Vincent and the Grenadines. But does the policy of indiscriminate mass vaccination actually make any sense? To date, according to officially provided data, just over 3% of the world’s population have tested positive for Covid. That means that 97% have not. Of that 3%, just over 2% have died as a result of Covid infection. That means that 98% of those infected have survived. As a percentage of the world’s population, 0.064% have died as a result of Covid infection. With regard to hospitalisation as a result of Covid infection, there are no global figures currently available but data from the European Medicines Agency state that around 7% of those infected in Europe and the USA, some of the areas with the worst Covid 19 outcomes, have required hospitalisation.
The question then arises as to whether mass vaccination of everyone you can lay your hands on represents a rational or scientific response to the Covid threat. In the circumstances where Barbados, like other CARICOM countries and unlike Cuba, has no capacity to produce vaccines and so must spend its time trying to get hold of these internationally, the question arises as to whether it makes good sense to use your limited supply of vaccines vaccinating people who had a low risk of developing severe Covid in order to protect them from severe Covid. Isn’t that just a waste of vaccines? Would it not make more sense to focus your limited supply of vaccines on those who actually would benefit from them? But this is where following the science comes in. But here it will require following the science as method and not as a body of knowledge which tells you what to do. According to data published by the Covid Communications Unit, as of 9 September, Barbados has had 5651positive cases and 51 deaths. There is no publicly available data on the numbers who have required hospital care as a result of Covid infection. After over 50 years of independence, isn’t this a large enough data set for those in the Ministry of Health or in the research departments of UWI to apply science as method to identify the common factors among those who have become infected and those who have progressed to serious illness and death so that this information can be used to inform the policy to combat the virus and allow for more targeted use of the vaccines?
There are those who promote mass vaccination as the silver bullet that will allow us to return to normalcy, but is this belief based on science? The data from highly vaccinated countries like Israel and Iceland suggest otherwise. With regard to our own reality, the official data published on 9 September shows that 0.094% of the vaccinated population are currently in tertiary isolation in St Lucy compared to 0.246% of the unvaccinated population. Clearly vaccines are not a silver bullet and we will need to think more widely about prevention and treatment for those who are sick. In china, the health authorities make use of traditional chines medicine along with modern medicine to treat those who are sick and in Cuba they have made use of homeopathic medicine in the same way. We will need to think outside of the box with a focus on saving the lives of the small minority who are seriously threatened by the virus but to find solutions we will need our own scientists to take up their responsibility to society and begin to carry out science as method to provide us with answers to pressing questions rather than simply repeating what they hear from North America and Europe. Then we really can follow the science with regard to Covid 19.