The Unheeding Unvaccinated

 Over the past few months, most covid-19 related deaths have been in unvaccinated people. In November 2021, it was reported that around 67% of people who died of covid-19 were unvaccinated

By Shoaib Mohammad

OF the many oddities that the last two years in a global pandemic have shown us, perhaps the strangest has been the phenomena of fake vaccine certificates. In a world of pretense and pomp, a shoddy vaccine certificate is too useless to flaunt. Perhaps, people realise that as covid-19 vaccines are becoming readily available, it may soon require one to be fully vaccinated to access public life. What most with fake certificates fail to realise is that this incompetent proof will not give them any protection against a deadly virus which has altered our reality for two years now.

What explains this reluctance towards being vaccinated? At what point does one think that something that is meant as a token of protection for one's personal health is unnecessary or dangerous?

The reasons for this hesitance may have stemmed from various factors: the general mistrust of people with the government, the fear of dangerous side-effects, our dogmatic insistence on fate, ‘yi khudae yech tee gachi’ or the skepticism regarding the unusually fast produced vaccines by corporate big pharmaceutical companies.

The last two years saw an intense struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic. After the first reported case in December 2019, apart from the employed first step actions of quarantining and social preventive measures, the question of a viable vaccine for the virus was raised. As the virus ravaged through the world, a hastened and imperative struggle of vaccine development was underway via unprecedented collaboration in the multinational pharmaceutical industry and between governments. This resulted in production of many clinically tested vaccines which  awaited approval from the healthcare agencies of the respective countries. Russia, China, UK, US and UAE became the first countries to approve some of the COVID-19 vaccines which then were followed by other countries across the world. This pace of the production of viable vaccines was a feat that was never achieved before in the history of making vaccines.

India began its vaccination process in January 2021, approving three vaccines: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield), Covaxin, by Bharat Biotech and recently, Sputnik V. The vaccination program was rolled out through-out India, including J&K in a three phase plan with the setting up of CoWin, a digital registration platform linked with the Union Government’s National Health portal. Despite the government's attempts to ensure vaccinations, people were more hesitant than thrilled about government-issued vaccines. This hesitance is genuine as one has every right to be sure about what they consume. However, this hesitance is often allied with wilful ignorance, which can put one’s own and other lives in danger.

Although the general hesitance of the public towards vaccines has reduced as the number of vaccinated people is increasing, there still exists an anti-vax sentiment.

Recently, SKIMS’s newly appointed Director, Dr Parvaiz Koul urged people to get vaccinated. Reaching out to the young and connected, he shared encouraging details from the world regarding the efficacy of vaccines as well. It said that according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, severe illness and death in vaccinated people was extremely rare. With such promising results, it is quite an anomaly that some people are consciously choosing to stay unvaccinated.

This hesitance may have also stemmed from initial details about some side effects that were overstated. This was especially true of the vaccine first available in India i.e., the Oxford Astrazeneca Vaccine. Even as much was done to dispel the myths and fears associated, some still seem unconvinced. This hesitance may also be attributed to many rumours related to the adverse effects of vaccines on one's fertility. While the government along with the civil society tried their best to counter this misinformation, there are some who refuse to give them a benefit of doubt.

However, as we know now, more and more each day, Vaccines work. Although they do not always prevent one from getting infected, they reduce one’s chances of getting severely ill. According to WHO the efficacy rate of AstraZeneca (Covishield), which is available in India is 76% which means that one is 76% less likely to catch the virus than the unvaccinated one and even if the vaccinated one catches the virus, it is highly unlikely that the person will need to be hospitalized. The numbers and statistics favour vaccines and the side-effects reported, though at times grave, are very minute in number. The best course of action, according to experts of the field, is to take the vaccines as its benefits far out-weigh its risks.

An insistence on not taking vaccines can have devastating results. The pandemic is a public health issue and there’s little scope for uninformed choices that may prove detrimental to an entire population.  Vaccinating oneself is not a personal choice but a collective social responsibility as the unvaccinated are more prone to spreading the virus than the vaccinated one. A number of unvaccinated people can take up healthcare resources that may direly be needed by other patients. This was reflected recently in a New York Times essay by an emergency room physician, Rob Davidson, at a hospital in Michigan, US, where the hospital had been at near full capacity with the majority of patients being COVID-19 infected and 98% of those needing acute critical care were unvaccinated.

Ever since mass vaccination, the rate of deaths from COVID-19 has significantly dropped. According to a research conducted by the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Solna, Sweden, 470,000 deaths in people aged 60 and up were prevented across 33 European nations. Another study from epidemiologists at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, estimated that 279,000 lives had been saved by late June by the vaccination drive in the United States.

The mutating nature of the virus is often seen as problematic. However the vaccines so far have been reported to work well against the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants. As their effectiveness towards the Omicron variant remains to be seen, there are multiple new vaccines on the way, currently being tested clinically.

It may not have touched every body but this pandemic has definitely scarred every soul. Everyone has lost someone to COVID-19, be it a relative, neighbour, a grandparent or a friend. In the wake of this pandemic we did not have that which we have now, the availability of a vaccine.

A fake vaccine certificate or the choice of not getting vaccinated is not only irresponsible towards one's own self but is also severely irresponsible towards our society. Even if we are healthy adults who choose to not get vaccinated, our choice of staying unvaccinated may not only cost others their lives but may also impede the pace of the end of the pandemic.

In Jammu and Kashmir, cases are increasing. However, health care professionals are also of the view that this may be the last worst stretch of the pandemic - the beginning of an end of the pandemic. Therefore, it becomes imperative for us to understand that tackling covid is not for one's personal security only. It is your one chance at saving the world. Perhaps, staying safe for yourself and the world will be that one chance for each one of us to be the heroes that we wanted to be.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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