My mother worked in public healthcare sector in Jamaica her entire life. She’s held jobs at several hospitals and even the Ministry of Health itself. She got vaccinated as a child, and took her children to be vaccinated as well. She even enrolled me in a clinical trial up until age 12. She also has comorbidities that would make a COVID-19 infection pretty damaging, if not fatal, to her health.
So it might be surprising to know that she is one of the many who refuses to take the free COVID-19 vaccine being offered by the government of Jamaica, which could potentially save her life.
To understand my mother’s hesistancy however – as much as one can understand an anti-vaxxer – you have to look beyond her professional background and health conditions.
Growing up in rural St. Thomas, she was raised with an unhealthy fear of both medicine and the government. I know, because I was raised there too.
Despite this background, she happened upon a job working for the very same institution she distrusted. And due to her many illnesses, became reliant on doctors and medication to help her live comfortably. For her, these were less about choice and more about survival.
She later found religion, becoming a devout follower of the Seventh Day Adventist doctrines and practices. As an indirect result, she became a lot more discerning with her food choices – reducing meat intake, increasing consumption of organic produce, and generally subscribing to herbs and natural remedies in lieu of mass-produced pharmaceuticals.
The cherry on top of the anti-vaxx cake, however, are the WhatsApp messages and Facebook updates she receives on a daily basis. Pseudo-scientists and wannabe-doctors popping into her main channel of communication, telling her that the vaccine is dangerous and should be avoided.
It’s mind control. It’s DNA-altering. It will kill you within 2 years.
And they have the “proof” from American right-wing extremist propaganda blogs and news channels, such as AON, Newsmax and the infamous FOX News, to back it up.
My mother doesn’t watch the news much. And she’s not exposed to many high-level discussions about world events. WhatsApp and Facebook are her news. And listening to her young daughter – who is also not a medical practitioner – over the myriad of people quoting scientists and doctors telling her not to take it, just doesn’t feel like the most logical move right now.
I get it.
I’m not mad at my mother.
If there’s any anger in me, it’s focused solely on the media outlets who knowingly spread disinformation and propaganda about the vaccine. They value eyeballs over ethics, so they’ll spread fear and distrust because that’s what keeps people watching and sharing. They know these people don’t know enough (and don’t care) to fact check the bullshit they spew, so they push every negative message imaginable, even when it’s demonstrably false. They give credence to the nutjobs conspiracy theorists’ ill-informed views and it makes me sick.
But mostly what I feel is fear. Fear that she could be the next statistic. The next person hooked up to monitors in a hospital bed, struggling to breathe, dependent on depleting oxygen resources. I fear losing my mother to something so easily avoided but so difficult to achieve.
Fear is my constant reality now. I don’t know what to do about it. And that scares me even more.