Submitted by Tee White
Addressing the country on 27 July 2021, following a meeting of the Social partnership to discuss the issue of mandatory Covid vaccination and testing, Prime Minister Mottley stated, among other things, that her government is convinced that Covid 19 vaccines reduce virus transmission. As the prime minister did not present the evidence on the basis of which the government has formed this conclusion, it was not clear how this opinion was arrived at. A search of the scientific literature on the impact of Covid vaccines on virus transmission produced not a single study that has been conducted on this issue in Barbados or the wider Caribbean region. In fact, globally, there is a significant lack of scientific studies on this matter.
To date, there appears to be one well designed scientific study which specifically sought to determine whether vaccination reduces virus transmission. This study by Harris et al. (2021) investigated the impact of AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccines on virus transmission within households in England. It found evidence of reduced virus transmission in households where the individual had been vaccinated. Although, this is an important study, it’s essential to bear in mind that this is a single study and its results will need to be replicated by future studies to provide solid scientific grounds for the claim that the Covid vaccines reduce virus transmission. Secondly, this study looked only at transmission within households and so its findings are limited to that particular area. Finally, this study collected its data in England between 4 January and 14 March. Anyone familiar with life in England understands that this is one of the coldest times of the year which leads to people spending more time indoors and keeping windows and doors closed to keep in warmth. Poorly ventilated indoor spaces are generally regarded as high risks areas for the spread of Covid 19. Therefore it cannot be assumed that the findings from this study are applicable to Barbados, where people spend a lot more time outdoors all year round and windows and doors are generally kept open to ‘let breeze in the house’. The statement from Dr Corey Forde, Isolation Facilities Manager, on 27 July that 40% of those currently in tertiary Covid isolation in the country have been doubly vaccinated, while the doubly vaccinated represent only 27% of the Barbados population is further evidence that there is lot still to understand about these vaccines and their impact. Therefore, there is an urgent need for scientific studies of the impact of vaccines on virus transmission in the concrete conditions of Barbados before the government can make pronouncements on this issue which have a scientific basis.
When considering the issue of mandatory vaccination, the other question that has to be taken account of is the scale of the public health threat that Covid 19 poses in Barbados. According to the official government statistics, as of 27 July 2021, the government has conducted 212,640 Covid tests, of which 4359 returned positive. In other words 98% of tests returned negative results while 2% were positive. Of Barbados’ population of 287,025 (World Bank estimate for 2019), the positive Covid tests represent 1.5% of the population. Since March 2020, the government statistics report 48 deaths from Covid 19. This amounts to 3 deaths per month for the last 16 months. This compares with a total of 2602 deaths in Barbados in 2019 or 216 deaths per month. Based on this data, a realistic assessment of the public health threat posed to Barbados by Covid 19 can be made and the proportionality of any proposed response can be evaluated.
There is a growing concern that the push towards mandatory vaccination of the population is being driven by the private sector and in particular, the hotel owners who think that describing their properties as fully vaccinated will make it easier to market them in this new Covid era. However, given that the vaccines themselves are not risk free and are associated with vaccine induced injuries and in some cases, deaths, it’s obvious that the decision to accept or refuse vaccination must be the personal choice of each individual once they have been provided with all the relevant information to make an informed decision. Any move to coerce individuals into being vaccinated, either through the law or through threatening them with the loss of their livelihood would represent a direct assault on the fundamental human right to make decisions about the medical procedures that are carried out on their body.
It is also clear that if employers decide to make it a requirement that employees undergo regular Covid testing, then the cost of this cannot be passed to the individual worker since this would in itself represent indirect coercion to be vaccinated.
In her press conference, the prime minister stated that once the Attorney General has presented his legal opinion, the government will consult with Bajans on how to proceed with regard to mandatory vaccination and testing. It is hoped that Bajans will take an active part in these consultations and vigorously defend their fundamental human right to be the ones who decide what happens to their bodies.
Harris, R., Hall, J., Zaidi, A., Andrews, N., Dunbar, K. and Dabrera, G. (2021) Impact of vaccination on household transmission of SARS-COV-2 in England, London, Public Health England.