Are you vaccinated

Narere resident receives his COVID-19 jab by staff nurse Rupa Nair while her fellow front liners look on during the vaccination drive in the area. Picture: ATU RASEA

This has become the start of many conversations around Fiji whether catching up on a Zoom meeting, on Viber message groups and family catch-ups, or lining up in the marked out two metre spaces at supermarkets, coffee shops, doctors and mobile network outlets.

And if the answer is yes, the conversation moves on to “So, when is your second jab due?”, “Where did you go?”, and eventually, “How long were you in line for?”.

When vaccinations commenced 9th March this year, Fiji became the first Pacific Island country to begin vaccinations for COVID-19.

Fijian businesses along with thousands of Fijians gratefully acknowledge the vaccine donations from Australia, India, the COVAX facility and soon, New Zealand and China.

Herd immunity is the current buzzword even though it is still unclear to many just how this will help protect us from becoming severely ill and even dying of COVID-19.

It has been mentioned a few times during the early press conferences of this second wave of COVID infections, but perhaps not enough emphasis is provided for a larger proportion of our population to really grasp the meaning and intention of the herd immunity goals.

The 80 per cent immunity targets often discussed needs to be taken into the context of coverage of the adult population, and while this appears a big ask, is definitely achievable with far more innovative communication efforts aimed at ensuring that our communities that cannot usually access newspapers, TV and regular internet services are not left out.

The only real issue then, would be ensuring we have sufficient vaccines to cover the population effectively with two doses. And the good doctor has confirmed we will.

Our Ministry of Health & Medical Services’ target for vaccinations is 587,651 of which 237,940 people have apparently received their first doses so far.

So, people of Fiji – if we want to have these movement restrictions lifted, we need another 350,000 people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Most of those in the tourism industry who chose to be vaccinated early are included in that 237,940, after very focused plans and concentrated activity by tourism stakeholders from mid-April to get as many of their staff protected against the virus.

In the months during the vaccination drive, the industry’s stakeholders did a series of outreaches to their staff and the communities they lived in.

Many of these communities are out in the maritime islands of the Mamanucas, Yasawa Islands and up North from Savusavu to Taveuni.

They are also spread out from the Coral Coast, moving along the western coastline and all the way to the hotter regions from Vuda to the Sun Coast.

In most areas where there is a resort or tourism related business, the Fiji Hotel & Tourism Association (FHTA) has encouraged sharing information, holding awareness sessions and ensuring tourism staff, their families and their communities have been provided clear information on the new COVID safe work guidelines and how vaccines can add that critical, extra layer of protection.

We have no doubt that a critical part of the information being shared in the vernacular languages whenever required, helped to get tourism workers in the right frame of mind to agree to be vaccinated.

The recent announcement that the Ministry of Health was rolling out plans to work with the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs to raise the awareness of the importance of the vaccine was certainly positive news.

This is an initiative that we have no doubt will make better progress in reducing misinformation and allow many of our people who otherwise might not get a chance, to hear first-hand what this is all about and to ask the niggling question for themselves.

While tourism businesses still cannot say they have everyone vaccinated yet, there is better understanding even from workers not currently employed, that they can register and change their minds whenever they believe they are ready.

It is a process for many. To understand, accept and then agree that the negative things you heard are actually not true, with tourism employers doing everything they can to support this process.

Employers are in a Catch 22 position over the vaccination issue, especially in what are considered high risk industries and businesses, with tourism only a step down in risk categories from medical and aged care workers.

On the one hand they have an obligation to protect their workers and their customers, but on the other hand, must also consider the individual right of the worker to
choose.

Many tourism workers are now coming up to their recommended time for second doses and they are understandably excited to complete their vaccination program for maximum possible protection.

For those who have not had the opportunity or have opted out for whatever reason, they are being urged not to let misinformation and fake news stop them from getting their doses of the vaccine.

The messaging has been simple.

That everyone understands that when you get vaccinated, you not only protect yourself from infection, but you also protect those around you, including your close family that you live with first, and then your co-workers, your public transport drivers, your favourite market vendors and supermarket cashiers and anyone you could very quickly infect without even realising.

As more and more people in a community vaccinate, the virus will have a harder and harder time spreading.

Because COVID-19 is such a stealthy virus — it spreads quickly and silently — it is not expected to ever go away so until thevast majority of our people are immunised, we are all unsafe.

Until then, schools, non-essential businesses and houses of worship cannot open.

And while we miss the ability to gather for weddings, birthdays, funerals or work conferences, we should be ready to accept that restrictions will continue to apply in some measure until we have the required number of vaccinations to reduce the virus’s hold on our lives.

FHTA has continued to work closely with our members to ensure that they are always kept abreast of the recent relevant updates that affect or impact the tourism industry including the vaccination programme, with the widespread response from the industry indicating readiness, even impatience, to get the second dose of the vaccine.

We realise things will not magically return to how they were pre-COVID as the virus will never really be eradicated.

We must simply learn to live with it by continuing to observe the COVID-safe guidelines of reduced crowding, social distancing, wearing protective masks, hand washing and sanitising.

Border closures for months or even years is not an option for this industry. Or for Fiji’s economic recovery.

So, this is our new normal and we have had over twelve months to get to grips with what is required.

Fiji can and will be on-par with the world in terms of keeping our people safe and being ready to confirm our COVID-contained vaccinated status and ready for international travel again.

We are quite looking forward to that day as I am sure many of you are as well.

  • FANTASHA LOCKINGTON is the chief executive officer of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of this newspaper

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