Dear BTIA Members,
Instead of the usual President’s letter I would like to share the words of a stalwart of the tourism industry. Many of you know Tony Rath or at least know his work through his company, Naturalight. Over the last forty years few people have done more to promote the nation’s tourism and conservation of Belize’s natural resources than Tony. In the short essay below—originally posted on Facebook– he turns his attention to an issue that dwarfs all others with respect to the future of Belize’s tourism industry, overall economy and very survival.
Anti-vaxers represent a minority of the Belize population. There is also a small number that interpret a 2000-year old religious text written before vaccines or cellphones or modern medicine to argue against vaccination. And of course there are the conspiracy theorists. Nothing will change these people’s minds as many are politically motivated. I am not looking to engage them.
So, with anti-vaxers aside, there’s a much larger number of people who ask themselves very legitimate questions about the vaccine. Following are some of their reasons for vaccine hesitancy and my responses from reading and studying the science of the pandemic (I am not a medical doctor, but do have a college biology background). Hope this helps:
REASON 1 – I NEED MORE RESEARCH OR EVIDENCE.
None of these people using this reason are medical researchers, so doing “more research” is not feasible. What I think they mean is they need to read more studies with evidence. Apparently, they are not finding enough to read, or they are listening to non-scientific people. There is a tiny minority of scientists that present questionable evidence against vaccinations. Science is like that, it needs the doubters to keep the truth moving forward with more evidence.
As for evidence, over 6 BILLION vaccines have been administered worldwide, over 2.5 BILLION people have been fully vaccinated. Scientific evidence comes from using the scientific method. The same scientific method that has created a modern world of the Internet, electricity and the internal combustion engine is based on information gained through repeatable experiments. Experiments are based on a certain number of samples that you are testing for. The number of samples of an experiment is called “sample size”. Usually, the larger the sample size, the more rigorous and believable are the results. 6 BILLION is a fantastically huge sample size to look at for evidence. With that large sample size, the results will be as close to the truth as is possible using science. So we do not need more evidence that the vaccine is effective at saving lives (see graphs for examples of evidence), just like we do not need more evidence that climate change is real, or that the Earth is a globe, or that gravity exists.
REASON 2 – THE VACCINE WAS DEVELOPED TOO QUICKLY TO BE SAFE AND CAN’T BE TRUSTED.
First, we settled the trust issue as to the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine in the paragraph above. Second, the vaccine was developed quickly because humans have been developing vaccines for centuries. What was compressed was the bureaucracy and administration that normally follows vaccine development. All the ethical steps were followed for each vaccine. It is the nature of this pandemic (the epistemology) that allowed quick development – a large number of cases and widespread infections.
An example of vaccine development without a large number of cases is a vaccine for the Ebola virus which is still years in development because there are never many opportunities to recruit patients for tests. To recruit 30,000 people, and to observe a difference between the placebo group and the vaccine group, there needs to be a significant epidemic – like Covid-19. If a virus isn’t circulating, or only a little, that becomes very difficult to test.
REASON 3 – SOME VACCINATED PEOPLE CATCH THE VIRUS, EVEN BE HOSPITALIZED, AND THIS PROVES THAT THE VACCINE IS INEFFECTIVE.
Let’s look at what’s happening in the UK, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world at 65%. They are currently experiencing a wave connected to the Delta variant. When we look at the correlation between deaths and the vaccinated, there is nearly an absence, at the moment, of mortality associated with those vaccinated. At the same time, in Russia, where much less of the population is vaccinated (around 15 percent), there is a significant wave of mortality, with nearly 800 deaths a day.
So here we have a live demonstration – evidence – of how the vaccine, above a certain threshold, begins to work. But this does not mean there won’t be any more hospitalizations. In the UK, there is still a significant percentage of people that are not yet vaccinated, and it is precisely those people who are being hospitalized, not those who are vaccinated.
Of course, there can be glitches and a few vaccinated people might still contract the virus – called a breakthrough infection. There are even some who might experience serious complications and die. There is always some marginal vaccine ineffectiveness – any vaccine is never 100 percent effective – but it’s very low for the Covid-19 vaccines. . Covid-19 vaccines are very close to 100 percent effective. Remember how trustworthy this number is because of the large sample size of over 6 BILLION.
REASON 4 – SOME PEOPLE CLAIM THAT MESSENGER RNA VACCINES MODIFY OUR GENETIC CODE.
When you have Covid-19, a huge strand of RNA enters the cells, takes on the role of messenger RNA and produces proteins from our cellular machinery. When you’re infected by a virus, whether it is influenza, dengue, or Covid-19, it’s by an injection of messenger RNA. The same thing happens when an infected mosquito bites you and you get dengue, messenger RNA is introduced into your system. There is nothing very new here about injecting messenger RNA into your body. The main point is though that there is NO genetic modification with these messenger RNA viruses or vaccines. The only gene modification that exists in nature is with retroviruses, like the AIDS virus, which can modify the genome, but this is not at all the case with messenger RNA viruses. It is odd how you can be afraid that a vaccine will do something worse than the virus you’re trying to fight. Especially since the vaccine’s messenger RNA is destroyed within hours, to the point that a second dose is necessary. Messenger RNA does not exist in cells beyond a few hours.
REASON 5 – IF I HAVE A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE, MY IMMUNE SYSTEM CAN DEFEND ITSELF ON ITS OWN AND DOESN’T NEED A VACCINE.
If there was a healthy lifestyle that allowed you to fight against such aggressive viruses, science would have known by now, science would have observed and recorded it through the scientific method. Maybe being in good health allows you to resist the attacks of the virus longer and more strongly. For example, if you end up in intensive care, it’s better not to be too thin or in poor health. But that, unfortunately, is all that can be achieved by having led a healthy lifestyle before contracting the virus. Young healthy people are dying every day from the virus.
Of course, if you believe a healthy lifestyle means not being in close contact with anybody, living in the bush, that might be a way to protect yourself – not ever being in a situation where you might contract the virus. But other than this plan, no way has been found where the immune system can be sufficiently boosted to be able to spontaneously resist the virus.
FINALLY, REASON 6 – YOU GET YOUR VACCINE, AND THEN YOU ARE SAFE. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF I GET IT OR NOT, IT IS MY CHOICE.
That is the thing about biology, life isn’t lazy. It is always trying ways to reproduce more efficiently. So while I could get the vaccine and feel safe from the current variant, it could get into your unvaccinated body and mutate into something that makes the current vaccines ineffective. Or you could pass it on to those that can not take the vaccine for medical reasons, or your mutated version could infect my child, could hospitalize my wife, could kill my parent. Or, you could get sick and take a hospital bed that my loved one needs for a heart attack, or a newborn baby. It is selfish, self-centered and egotistical to look at this as a personal choice, as a human right, as a god-given freedom – this is about societal responsibility. This is an example of the social contract incarnate mentioned below.
There are many more fringe arguments, but these I have found are the main ones. THE MAIN POINT IS THAT WITH A SAMPLE SIZE OF OVER 6 BILLION, ALL THE EVIDENCE LEADS TO THE TRUTH THAT THE VACCINE IS SAFE AND EFFECTIVE AT SAVING LIVES AND GIVING US THE FREEDOM TO MOVE AGAIN. You and we as a society, are much better off if we all get vaccinated.
What about human rights, our right to chose, our freedom? That is the thing about living with other people. To be part of a society, we have to give up certain rights to live together in peace. It is called the “Social Contract” – an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits; for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for the state safeguarding our property, or to keep us safe from crime or protect our health from polluters. There are so many examples of everyone giving up rights through laws to live with each other that I do not think I need to list any.
On the contrary, I believe those that refuse to be vaccinated (excluding those with medical reasons), or refuse to mask, or refuse to keep a social distance – are robbing Belizean society of its freedom and some people of their life. Belize is a tiny country, with only 400,000 people. Imagine if we could get the majority of the people vaccinated, and reach herd immunity, where people wore masks in public and kept a social distance. Covid-19 would be under control as it is in New Zealand and Iceland. Our local economy would be moving again, and those businesses that rely on tourism, nearly 50% of our economy – which touches nearly everyone in Belize, including the Mennonites who wrote that letter to the Prime Minister mentioned below – could be welcoming foreign guests with the proper controls and tests in place. Not just the big hotels, but the small Belizean businesses that run hotels, guide, cook, sell produce and perform all the thousands of jobs necessary for tourism.
The non-vaxers, and the people they influence through their rhetoric, those that refuse to follow anti-Covid guidelines all in the name of freedom and human rights, are doing just the opposite. They are denying everyone else’s freedom of movement, freedom of earning a living, and freedom to pursue our lives as we see fit – our human rights. They are being selfish to the highest degree, being anti-society and trashing the social contract that all should follow to live together in the paradise that is Belize.
The question of religious belief is an easy one. The Mennonites of Spanish Lookout, Blue Creek and Shipyard recently sent a letter to the Prime Minister listing Revelations 13:17, part of the Christian bible, an ancient religious text that has been modified by 1000’s of people over 1000’s of years and interpreted in 1000’s of different ways, as a reason not to receive the vaccine. They interpret the text as the vaccine is the “mark of the beast”. I refuse to get into a religious argument with Mennonites, but I will say that everyone should be allowed to believe and practice whatever religion they want – as long as it does not infringe on someone else’s rights. But this anti-vaxer belief is impinging on our human rights by contributing to the strength of this pandemic, making it last longer than necessary, and killing more Belizeans than necessary. If the anti-vaxers and those hesitant do not want to get the vaccine, then their movement must be curtailed, just like all of ours are now.
Vaccines are one of the wonders of modern medicine. All of us have received one vaccine at least in our lifetime – think tetanus, polio, smallpox, rabies, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, rubella and on and on. We vaccinate our pets that we love, farmers vaccinate their livestock and then feed us with the meat.
What over 6 BILLION Covid-19 vaccines given worldwide have shown us is that the chance of life-threatening, adverse effects from receiving this vaccine might as well be 0%. This Covid pandemic is more than a war against biology, it is a war against ignorance, selfishness, putting politics above social welfare, against a society that places individual choice over what is best for everyone. It is as if Covid-19 specifically evolved and mutated to take advantage of these human traits.
I recently listened to a very enlightening speech by Governor-General Froya Salam, where she intimated that Belizean society has lost its way, taking from the earth for individual wealth rather than enriching the earth for everyone and future generations. The anti-vaxers, those hesitant to be vaccinated, you are taking from Belizean society, you are contributing to our losing freedoms, you are contributing to the death of people for your ego. I sincerely hope the government will find the courage to do what is right, enforce the social contract on those that want to live here and require vaccination to move around this paradise called Belize. The anti-vaxers right to individual freedom of choice does not trump my and all Belizeans right to life and liberty and freedom to make a living.
BTIA members should be congratulated on the industry’s record in having the vast majority of its workers vaccinated. It is the position of BTIA that the Government of Belize should enact employer-based vaccine mandates that call for all businesses to limit employment only to those who are vaccinated. We believe that this is the only way to get the Covid-19 pandemic under control and save hundreds of Belizean lives.
Yours in Sustainable Tourism,
President, Belize Tourism Industry Association