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The hidden effects of covid19 – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


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Marina Salandy-Brown

Given the amount of bad press the vaccines have received from citizen journalists and conspiracy theorists eager to share their gloom, it was truly amazing to see the media reports of the scores of people rushing last week to get vaccinated.

Social distancing, something we just do not understand and are not wired to engage in, was even more unachievable as the masses pressed closer to ensure no one stole their space in the queue. It reminded me of the crush at a Carnival event.

The Minister of Health apologised publicly for the confusion about who could turn up where and when for their vaccines and the mayhem that ensued across the country, but at the Queen’s Park Savannah, which was dedicated to the over-60s receiving their second inoculation, it was a well organised affair.

My mother, aged 99, was allowed to be delivered right into the paddock area and immediately got put in a wheelchair. Her medical history was taken by a member of the defence force and within minutes she had her jab. A short period of observation followed and then we were accompanied out of the stands and were on our way back home. All very efficient.

The sense of an end to the pandemic is in the air, but it is slightly premature because there will still be a million vaccines to use up here in Trinidad and Tobago.

In the meantime, though, people everywhere are relieved to have received their vaccination, wherever it came from; those who have had their second jabs are even more jubilant than they were the first time around. The WhatsApp messages are full of verbal air-punching, littered with emojis that represent joy. The tantalising idea that our national borders might reopen before too long has put a spring into their step as they wander around their internal spaces or in their gardens where they have been imprisoned. It may even have convinced some naysayers to get vaccinated. I predict there won’t be room on the pavements for everyone once we are allowed outdoors again, and that is just as well, since the long shadow cast by covid19 is not to be overlooked.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the pandemic, leaving aside the death of some 600 people in TT and the awful physical suffering of thousands more, has been the enforced isolation. It has had enormously negative effects upon people’s mental wellbeing. Counselling organisations report a sharp rise in the numbers of people seeking help from them, and many companies have found the cash in these cash-strapped times to offer their staff much-needed psychological support.

Pity, then, those who have lost their jobs or had to close their businesses. They are grieving over their loss, and fear an uncertain future. Many of them do so alone.

Consider the young ones who have been unable to make friends, learn from playground encounters, or face exams after the most unusual study regimes. The isolation racks up a big cost in all those ways; but researchers have found another unseen development it might cause.

All that sanitising and hand-washing, it turns out, might well have further negative effects upon us eventually. In our attempt to keep the potentially deadly virus off our hands and bodies. we have been also ridding ourselves of some of the trillions of good microbes that make up our individual microbiome.

Those personal, invisible warriors interact with our immune cells and teach them how to spot enemies, so we need a huge army of them, but we are depleting their diversity. A diverse microbiome is an indicator of rude health. Scientists are getting worried that the clean-hands frenzy, the masking, no touching, coupled with the extreme isolation in protracted periods of lockdown, with little or no other human contact, will have a weakening effect upon children, particularly, who have not yet been able to build up their microbiomes.

Being outdoors and having pets can increase our microbiome diversity, so the current state of emergency that disallows it is doing us even more harm than just getting fat and batty.

It is an interesting area of research that has been ongoing for a while, but still with lots more to discover.

Nevertheless, it would appear that our microbiome is not passed on just from parent to child, but through contact with others. Nature is obviously ensuring that if we lose our individual life-protection microbes. they will exist in the wider pool and not threaten the species and are, therefore, an evolutionary element. But we may have threatened that cycle, in the same way that we have weakened our immune response to infection by using antibiotics needlessly.

It would be useful if the WHO were to factor in these post-covid health matters into policy and advice for countries after we emerge from the depths of this pandemic. We may have been too narrowly focused, which is understandable, but the work should start now on reshaping world health – physical and mental – demands as much as we worry about post-covid economies.

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