Dear Editor,

The U.S. Virgin Islands faces a serious risk associated with the appearance of the delta variant of SARS-COV-2 (COVID). The number of new case infections, the positivity rate, and the number of hospitalizations is rising. Of the six mutated COVID strains — alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, and iota — the delta variant is the most contagious and dangerous. The most recent uptick in infections is worrying because of our very limited hospital critical care capacity (52 Intensive Care Unit beds) may soon be compromised if current trends continue.

Currently, there are 19 hospitalized COVID patients. To avoid the hospital system being overwhelmed, the territory may be facing lockdowns, a vaccine mandate and new masking requirements even for those vaccinated. The return to “normality” will be postponed and it will imply high economic and social costs.

The best protection against the delta variant is to be fully vaccinated.

The overwhelming number of hospitalizations and deaths recorded since January are unvaccinated, some 99%. According to an Associated Press analysis of CDC data for the United States in May 2021, 1,200 breakthrough infections of fully vaccinated persons occurred out of 107,000 total COVID-related hospitalizations, roughly 1.1%. And about 150 of approximately 18,000 COVID deaths in May were fully vaccinated people (.8%).

According to Our World in Data for July 23, the USVI has fully vaccinated 36,939 persons for a full vaccination rate of 34.6%. This rate is far below the 70% rate needed for herd immunity. Given the overabundance of vaccines in the territory, this is inexcusable. Many low-income developing countries have low vaccination rates because they are financially constrained.

Don’t be selfish. Don’t be stupid. Get vaccinated. When vaccine-hesitant people are questioned as to why they don’t get vaccinated, they usually give one of the following reasons. Each reason is rebutted. Would you please use these rebuttals when trying to persuade hesitant family members, friends, and co-workers?

Rebuttals to common reasons not to vaccinate:

  • FDA has not fully approved the vaccines? I prefer to “wait and see.”
  • Congress granted the FDA the power to issue emergency authorizations in 2001 to essentially protect the military forces and the public from pressing threats. Emergency authorizations have been used for vaccines and therapies for Anthrax, H1N1 (swine flu), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS, Zika and Ebola.

    Emergency authorization still requires the review of clinical trial data to determine efficacy and safety. The period between emergency authorization and full approval usually is 10 months. The extra time is used to review actual field data and closely review manufacturing and quality assurance procedures. In July, Pfizer requested a priority review. Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson are in the process of filing paperwork. Because all these vaccines have been so effective, full approval by the Fall is likely.

  • The mRNA vaccines are experimental gene therapy.
    • No, mRNA vaccines instruct your body to make antibodies that will respond to the S1 spike proteins that line the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The spike proteins are used to attach the virus to host cells. If the attachment process can be disrupted, then the chances of being infected drastically lessens.
  • The vaccines were developed too quickly
  • Traditional vaccines use inactive parts of the pathogen in question to trigger antibody reactions and typically take 10-15 years for development. Most of the time is spent understanding how the pathogen works, how it attacks the human body and then looking for a weakness in the design of the pathogen that can be exploited for vaccine development. The case of the rapid COVID mRNA vaccine development is based on 10 years of prior research on SARS and MERS viruses. The coronavirus causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), thus, scientists had a running start. Revolutionary was to use mRNA, a completely new technology that does not depend on isolating parts of live viruses.

  • The vaccines were deployed too quickly
  • The clearest precedent for a rapid deployment was Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine. On April 26, 1954, polio vaccine trials with 1.6 million children started in the U.S. and ended a year later.

    Massive vaccination campaign started during the summer of 1955 to inoculate children before the academic school year. The benefit of preventing a crippling childhood disease (21,000 children with mild to severe disabilities for the rest of their lives and about 3,100 deaths each year) outweighed the costs of waiting years to study every possible side effect or adverse reaction to the polio vaccine.

  • When I got immunization shots as a child, I didn’t like it and felt very sick
  • Most vaccines have some side effects, but they are short-lived. Pain at the injection site, fever, headache, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms are common side effects of vaccines as the body begins to ramp up the production of antibodies. There is no logical equivalence between experiencing the flu-like symptoms for two days and risking a preventable death, a permanent event.

  • I have a naturally strong immune system, and I believe in using homeopathy and relying on “natural preventives” like bush tea, sunlight, vitamins, a vegetarian diet and Vicks.
  • There is no rigorous empirical evidence (controlled randomized, double-blind experiments) to suggest that “natural remedies” can prevent a COVID infection or prevent death. Teas, other liquids, vitamins, and a healthy diet can help alleviate the flu-like symptoms associated with COVID but will not prevent death. Only tested anti-viral treatments such as monoclonal therapies have been shown effective at preventing death and speeding recovery.

    Sunlight is not a cure or preventive. India, the country where the delta variant appeared, is a tropical country with plenty of sunshine.

    Vicks is commonly viewed as a cure-all in Caribbean households, but it is a decongestant, topical pain reliever, and cough suppressant — not a virus killer.

    I am an undocumented, illegal resident, and I will be rounded up and deported.

    No immigration enforcement is occurring around the vaccination campaign. The public interest is to prevent hospital care systems from being overburdened. It doesn’t matter if a potential patient is an undocumented or a legal resident. Emergency hospital care will be rendered. Hundreds of illegal persons have been vaccinated in the Virgin Islands, and they are still here.

    The vaccines are killing many people.

    This statement is misinformation. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), as of July 19, 6,207 persons died who received a vaccine, but that does not mean it caused their deaths.

    Only three vaccine-related deaths attributed to Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been clearly and irrefutably confirmed. Even if all the VAERS deaths were attributed to COVID vaccines in the U.S., the death rate for vaccines would be .0018%. Some 187.2 million people in the U.S. have received COVID vaccines.

    People have a constitutional right to choose what they ingest or inject into their body.

    Freedoms come with responsibilities, and no freedom is absolute. The pursuit of your freedom should not impair, diminish the freedoms of others to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, or plainly endanger others. Therefore, when we are dealing with a highly contagious communicable disease, the state has a compelling interest in pursuing the common good and is justified in infringing on the rights of the individual. Masks may be mandated, restrictions on movement mandated, mass assemblies prohibited, and border crossings may be restricted until the public health risk subsides. The state and private employers even may have a right to issue vaccine mandates.

    For decades, hospitals, schools and the military have required immunizations of staff and students. A court in Texas recently upheld the right of a hospital to demand staff to be vaccinated or risk losing employment. Willful ignorance and selfishness cannot be “enshrined” as a “protected right.”

    — Mark Wenner, St. Thomas, is an economist.