Men may come and men may go…

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

No to mandatory vaccines. Photo – New York Times

Some things we learn during our student days create a deep impression on us, and remain buried in our consciousness until some event brings them to the surface. The waves of the Covid pandemic that are surging in several countries that had seemingly brought it under control brought to my mind the last lines of Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘The Brook’ which we learnt at college:

For men may come and men may go
But I go on for ever

It is a story of a brook – a small stream – from its origin to its destination, the narrator being the brook itself, which is here a symbol of life and of nature in its totality. The brook’s journey from its origin to its destination represents a man’s journey of life from birth to death. Whatever happens to it on the way is similar to what man encounters through his life. The brook’s noisy flow is similar to man’s struggling and fretting and fuming against the odds of life. The brook slips, slides, glooms and glances. So does a man. It makes its way forcefully against odds, so does man as he struggles through many problems. The brook carries many things with it as it flows. So does a man: he meets people – builds relationships – carries memories, collects materialistic things as he goes through life.

The only difference is that the brook is ever flowing, eternal without ceasing whereas we, the men are ephemeral. We shall not live forever. We are subject to decay, decline and death.

Our current global situation prompts me to invent this paraphrase:

For men may come and men may go
But Covid will go on for ever

Covid is a virus, and viruses are a primordial form of life, poised between the inert and the living – they are neither completely dead nor completely alive. But they need to piggyback on a living unit to come alive and to hijack its innards to propagate themselves.

This is exactly what Covid is doing: entering the fundamental unit of life which is the cell. Here it is lung cells, in which it multiplies, killing a comparatively few so that most of the rest survive to keep spreading it around in keeping with the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. When scientists go about looking for life on other planets, they don’t search for humans, though there is a project scouting for signs of human-like intelligence: SETI or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Primarily what they look for is evidence of primordial life in the form of microbes such as viruses or bacteria.

Slowly, the view is gaining ground in the learned circles that Covid is on the way to becoming seasonal like the flu. It is, in other words, here to stay –whether we do or not, whether we like it or not.

It has already decided, in a manner of saying, that it is going to be around. It’s up to us to see what we want to do. Adapt or perish.

After the initial bracing up and efforts at adapting that were reasonably successful till the beginning of this year, or nearly one year after we got smacked, we thought we’d look out of the window again and sneak out through the door.

The result? Smack again. Can’t play games with Corona. It is a serious partner.

Belatedly, we have told ourselves to ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ – and ‘Stay Cool’, added Sid, a seven-year old who submitted a painting he made in response to a call from the MBC-TV, and which was shown on TV, making him and his parents proud and happy. There is an artistic streak in the family, and who knows where this might lead Sid, as he has been guided to make fruitful use of his time during this second lockdown here, with schools closed. While Mum made tartelettes-aux-goyave from the produce in the yard, along with guava jam – Mauritian, after all!

* * *

To be or not to be vaccinated?

I have been receiving calls about whether to be or not to be vaccinated from family, friends, patients. A colleague sent me this excellent piece of advice nicely expressed without mincing words by a Dr D P Prakash FRCS:
‘Suddenly we hear from almost every Whatsapp university certified specialist question about the speed with which some vaccine was approved.

I guess that’s basic human nature where when we are starving we might eat anything but when the same hungry person is given a choice then he forgets the hunger and starts analyzing which of the choices is better.

Suddenly everyone knows about phase 2 or phase 3 vaccine trials and starts comparing the efficacy rates, complications incidence and adverse drug events.
Such information is purely in research scientific domain but unfortunately today it has become WhatsApp ‘time pass.’

Whether you want to be vaccinated or not is purely your choice. That’s the only fact you need to know. Everything else is relative.

Your choice doesn’t depend on the vaccine – its effectiveness or side effects but on your assessment of your risk of dying from covid. If you feel fairly comfortable with the assessment that you will not die of covid, then you don’t need any vaccine.
Every medicine you and your family have taken so far including panadol has many side effects, such as kidney failure. Every antibiotic could have caused an allergic reaction that could have killed you. Every anaesthesia that someone in your family had before surgery could have caused complications like paralysis of the breathing leading to death. These are complications known to doctors and yet we have no choice but to use these treatments.

Wake up people – No medicine is 100% safe.

Every treatment offered by your doctor is done in good faith to make you better. Like in every field of life, we doctors also operate on the ‘risk versus benefit’ principle. If the potential benefit outweighs the risk considerably, then we give this in good faith.

Coming back to the safety of the Covid vaccines:
all the vaccines have been approved on an emergency use authorisation.
This means that the scientific community have not had adequate time to analyse the safety and effectiveness of all these currently available vaccines in spite of the best of their efforts, knowledge and resources.

So it’s up to you to judge whether you are in an emergency or not.
All governments around the world know that you are in an emergency that’s why you are offered the option for vaccine.

How did the government know that? It is by looking at the millions of deaths caused by Covid in just one year.

If you in your WhatsApp university educated mind feel that you are not in any emergency, then you can deny yourself that vaccine. But you take that extra risk which your neighbours haven’t taken.

Is the vaccine the solution for this Covid pandemic? In my opinion any vaccine, including all the Covid vaccines are a part of the solution. No vaccine can protect against any disease 100% of the time.

This I state from our experience with viral infections like polio, measles, influenza.
A good N95 mask worn with 6 feet social distancing and hand hygiene can protect you 100% from Covid.

Unfortunately we are tired of following the above after one year of trial.

The most difficult thing to implement is the 6 feet social distancing because we are social animals. We like to meet with fellow humans all the time. We cannot live in isolation or lockdown for much longer – not because of the economic impact but more so due to the mental distress caused by staying away from each other.
Any Covid vaccine is safer than getting infected with the virus and fighting for survival in an ICU with a ventilator in your throat.

A vaccine is an additional safety – like a crash helmet for a bike rider, but it has to be used with safe driving practice. The best helmet cannot save you if you are a rash driver but can protect your head in case of an accidental fall.

Therefore: Look at the Covid vaccine as an additional safety measure along with masks, social distancing and hand hygiene – not as a replacement.

If you feel you are a safe driver who does not need a helmet and can strictly follow the three important steps – mask, distancing, hand hygiene – that will 100% protect you, then you probably can stay away from the vaccine until you are convinced.
But that’s a decision only you have to take, not look for advice from whatsapp university.

Either get Infected or get Vaccinated – or stay forever in a bubble distanced from other people.

The choice is yours.

Don’t forget that we have already lost one full year in this epidemic! Isn’t that enough?’

If that is not clear enough, nothing will be.


* Published in print edition on 19 March 2021

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