Castries, Saint Lucia, Wednesday November 10, 2021:– With over five million deaths globally from COVID-19, over four billion remaining unvaccinated, crystal-clear certainty that unvaccinated persons are at highest-risk of death and the nation’s vaccination rate near the regional bottom, health professionals here are eagerly encouraging citizens to vaccinate.
They’re also urging the government to consider requiring health workers and counterparts in other sectors interacting with the public to be vaccinated.
But, for remaining consistent with what they’ve been saying ever since the pandemic was declared 20 months ago, the Saint Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) and its President, Dr. Merle Clark, are being subjected to an unrelenting stream of negative, partisan political criticism – including online verbal abuse – from hidden voices in the local anti-vaccination lobby.
With the nation still managing the Fourth COVID wave, the SLMDA (the national association of doctors and dentists) says if action isn’t taken early enough, the island can face an even-more-deadly Fifth Wave.
Last Friday (November 5), the SLMDA issued a statement reiterating that with vaccine rates still too-low for healthy comfort, “Every Saint Lucia citizen eligible to be vaccinated, should be vaccinated.”
It said that “As a professional body of healthcare workers and guardians of our nation’s healthcare,” members are “duty-bound” to protect the general public “by offering the best scientific advice and providing the highest standard of healthcare.”
With the vaccination rate currently “at a paltry 23.3 %”, the SLMDA warned: “We cannot afford another deadly wave, or to have our hospitals overwhelmed.”
The SLMDA also noted that since the pandemic was declared, “the impact on the mental health of frontline workers and citizens in general has been profoundly negative.”
The statement said the SLMDA “believes the time has come” for the island’s “health authorities” to “seriously consider the implementation of vaccine mandates… starting with key sectors such as essential workers and any individual who is in constant contact with others.”
But this is where the statement was turned into a millstone around Dr Clark’s neck.
Since then, the President and the SLMDA have been subjected to daily attacks by online critics using nomes-de-plume to snipe from a safe distance.
Much of the local press coverage of the carefully-worded statement has so-far ignored the argued bases for the association’s pleas, instead focusing on highlighting the SLMDA urging the government to “consider” vaccine mandates.
But some media comments also support the association’s statement.
One (in St. Lucia Times Online) recommended: “All visitors to the island, including returning nationals, should (also) be fully vaccinated and have taken the PCR test three days before travelling here.”
Another suggested the Health Ministry “should focus instead on getting access to the anti-COVID pills by Merck and Pfizer, instead of wasting taxpayers’ monies on vaccines which the tax payers have clearly expressed that they do not want.”
But there were also the scathing, unrelenting, and abrasive criticisms, bordering on personal insults, denigrating the SLMDA President, attacking her character, politicizing the pandemic, and contemptuously dismissing the members of the professional association of medical and dental practitioners.
One such critic wrote: “Dr. Clarke and her bunch of jokers… should know that (most of) the countries that are doing better (in vaccinations) have not introduced mandates… Of the ten countries ahead of Saint Lucia in vaccination rates, only two have introduced mandates for some sectors and one of those behind us has introduced mandates and (is) yet far behind us…”
Yet another posted: “The SLMDA is saying the government should move to end individual choice….”
But the SLMDA’s Executive and members are standing with their president, most insisting citizens should ignore the negative critics, trust professional and scientific information and not personalize or politicize the pandemic.
One well-known government-associated medical practitioner, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Saint Lucia News Online (SLNO): “The Delta variant has hit us hard with the Fourth Wave; our medical facilities are already under strain and at this rate we will definitely not be able to handle a Fifth Wave.”
She continued, “People must understand that it is proven worldwide that it is unvaccinated people who are dying most of all, but pregnant and lactating mothers also need to pay attention and be attended to…
“So, people need to make and take their own decisions and stop putting their lives in the hands of people advising them to, all-of-a-sudden, abandon their traditional confidence in their doctors.”
“This is very scary,” she said.