Throughout history, catastrophic events have brought out the best and the worst in people. Wars, for example, have produced great heroes and despicable villains. Natural calamities have revealed givers and sharers, as well as hoarders and looters.
This pandemic is no exception. We have witnessed the selfless service of our front-line health-care workers. We have also learned about the billions of pesos in funds allotted for the pandemic, still unaccounted for, either misspent or still unspent for their intended purpose. We have seen the rise of community pantries initiated by private citizens to mitigate food scarcity among their neighbors. But we also know of the anomalies in the distribution of the government’s cash assistance and relief goods.
But even among people of goodwill, the ongoing global crisis has created rifts and disagreements—among citizens, between citizens and their governments, and between the different agencies of government. Our own government is fortunate that we Filipinos are generally patient and compliant. But the citizens of other countries are very vocal about their “rights” and readily take to the streets when they feel abused.
Here are the major contentious issues which have divided people in many countries:
The intermittent, protracted lockdowns. These have caused street protests and rallies in countries across Europe, all the way down to Australia, especially the latest lockdowns aimed at containing the fast-spreading Delta variant.
The loss of income due to the closure of businesses and the inability to go to work are the main driving force against lockdowns. But the emotional and psychological toll of social isolation also contributes significantly.
The lockdowns have also seen different government agencies at odds with one another, with health agencies insisting on prolonging them, and economic agencies demanding an end to them to prevent economic collapse.
Mask mandates. Although this is not an issue in our country (we even have to wear face shields over our face masks), in countries like the United States, wearing masks has become a social, political and legal issue. In some states, parents have vehemently objected to mask mandates for their children in schools and have challenged state and school authorities, many of whom have resigned as a result. Confrontations have also occurred between store personnel and customers in business establishments requiring customers to wear masks.
Restoring in-person classes vs online learning. This is another issue confronting national and local educational systems worldwide. All kinds of proposals have been put forward. The result: Different approaches have been tried and adopted—from the general opening up of schools, to a combination of in-person and online classes, even to changes in the start and length of the school year. Whatever the approach, the consensus is that the pandemic has negatively impacted the learning process.
But today’s burning issue—globally and locally—is whether one should go for vaccination or not. I can be objective about this because I’m not qualified for vaccination due to multiple drug allergies which have caused me serious problems in previous vaccinations. Being no technical expert on the subject, I will dwell mainly on its personal and social implications as a concerned citizen.
There are basically three positions on getting vaccinated—pro-vaxx (you want to get vaccinated, or have been vaccinated); anti-vaxx (you refuse to get vaccinated); and “antay-vaxx” (you are not against getting vaccinated, but would rather wait and see, “mag-antay muna.”)
The proponents of the three positions put forward credible arguments for their respective views.
The pro-vaxxers, probably by far the majority, support the official positions of their governments based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization and their national health agencies.
Due to certain serious adverse events early on, some countries temporarily suspended the use of certain vaccines, some have restricted their use to specific age segments of their population, and others have shown preference for particular vaccines. But in general, the mantra is “follow the science.” Governments have been reassuring their citizens of the efficacy and safety of whatever vaccines are available.
Some countries are giving incentives to vaccinees (cash, gifts, raffle prizes), some are applying pressure by withholding certain privileges and services, and even denying some jobs to unvaccinated persons. Among citizens, some pro-vaxxers call anti-vaxxers selfish, socially irresponsible, misinformed, stubborn, etc. This has put a strain on social circles and families. Anti-vaxxers, on the other hand, cite unofficial but credible sources (respected doctors, epidemiologists, even former employees of health agencies and vaccine manufacturers) in their stand that COVID vaccines may not only be ineffective, but that their safety is highly suspect, given that they have been developed hastily, foregoing essential steps, i.e., the required animal trials, and the still uncompleted Phase 3 broad-based human trials. They also cite the serious adverse reactions and vaccine-related deaths reported on social media.
The third group, locally called “antay-vaxxers” are not against vaccination in principle, but sifting through the available information from both the pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine camps, are wary of the possible longer-term effects, considering that the tried-and-tested vaccines of today had taken years, not months, to prove their long-term safety. So they would rather wait.
To cite just one example (among many) of an important concern, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated in a July 2021 advisory: “With no precedent for mRNA (Messenger RNA) vaccines and accelerated vaccine development programs lacking long-term Phase 3 safety data, it is right for investigators, funding bodies and the public to be concerned about the risk of harm in pregnancy . . . ”
The prudent approach of “antay-vaxxers” also takes into account more immediate serious side effects which, although occurring minimally, are still valid concerns for anyone about to receive a jab, such as anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) and thrombosis (blood clotting), among others.
Each of the three positions regarding vaccination has its own merits, and deserves due consideration. I believe that the best attitude is for one to respect the views of others, avoiding disparagement. For the government and private sector entities, it would be injudicious to take discriminatory actions against unvaccinated individuals which patently violate their legal rights.
The bottom line: To consistently protect one’s self and others, and in view of the many vaccine-related caveats from health authorities, everyone, vaccinated or not, should continue to practice the same safety protocols, i.e., masks and face shields, social distancing, frequent hand washing, he/she had been observing before the vaccines became available.