Paying Attention to Infectious Diseases

Has the Saint Lucian population reached COVID-19 herd immunity to the point where we can now mingle without adhering to directives from health officials to wear a mask or stay six feet apart?

The question is relevant considering today’s experiences, meaning the reality of our everyday practices and involvements where infectious diseases are concerned.

Herd immunity as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary, is a reduction in the risk of infection with a specific communicable disease that occurs when a significant proportion of the population has become immune to infection (because of previous exposure or vaccination). Thus, susceptible individuals are much less likely to come in contact with infected individuals.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs reminds us daily of how many persons were tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, how many are in serious condition, how many are hospitalized, the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated and how many have passed away as a result of the disease.

We are a long way from reaching herd immunity, however we felt the need to ask the above question because of the outward disregard on display by Saint Lucians to COVID-19 and other easily transferable diseases. We seem not to understand that COVID-19 is still widespread in our communities.

Examples of our indifference to COVID-19 are all around us, starting with the recently concluded carnival celebrations. We all saw what it was like; from the revelers to the patrons who braved the hot sun to see the street parade of the carnival bands. They were all shoulder to shoulder, face to face, unmasked, taking in the action. COVID-19 appeared to be a distant memory for them.

And from carnival to now, it has been an outright violation of COVID-19 protocols. Even businesses (not all) seem to have relaxed on what they once were adamant on: patrons masking up and sanitizing their hands before entering the business place.

More unmasked individuals are in public than masked ones. This was not the case a few months back, when Saint Lucians were required to wear a mask in public or face a misdemeanour charge.

All of this is happening even though the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs continues to churn out daily reminders of the importance of abiding by the COVID-19 protocols, while keeping a close eye on yet another infectious disease, although not yet recorded on island.

Monkeypox is spreading around the world and is already in the Caribbean. Many Lucians have expressed the view that it is only a matter of time before it lands here.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs has had a close brush with the disease. Less than three weeks ago, the Ministry reported it was managing six suspected cases of monkeypox and that contact tracing was being conducted for those suspected cases.

Shortly after, the Ministry, with a sigh of relief, reported that the suspected monkeypox cases were now negative cases and that there was no confirmed case of monkeypox in Saint Lucia, however it is ready to deal with the disease whenever it rears its head in Fair Helen.

The Ministry is ready to deal with another threatening infectious disease but most of the people in the country are not. This is indeed a dilemma. Where do we go from here? What can be done to drive home the message that this ignorant behaviour on the part of some Saint Lucians could result in all of us paying for the consequences.

Infectious diseases are no respecter of persons. All of us could be impacted by them, hence the need for all to abide by protocols designed to keep us safe.

In April of this year, we reminded Saint Lucians of the need to be careful and to reduce the number of social activities they engaged in as COVID-19 is still a deadly virus. We find ourselves having to repeat this same message again four months later. Not only are private large gatherings more numerous today, government now has engaged in sponsoring and even staging events with the capacity to woo thousands of people; carnival and Friday night events in various parts of the country being such examples. We do not consider this to be a responsible policy to deal with a virulently infectious disease.

We need to safeguard against a drop in the percentage of vaccinated persons, the lowering of our protective guard and the pretense that the storm has passed, and blue skies abound, because if this happens, more sickness and death will follow.

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