This should be one of the happiest times of the year, with Christmas just two days away. But instead of yuletide joy, this country is enduring a nightmare situation of high hospital admissions and overflowing morgues caused by the latest COVID-19 wave.

Acting Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards shared grim statistics at yesterday’s Ministry of Health media briefing—749 patients in the parallel health care and step-down facilities and large numbers of unvaccinated patients arriving severely or critically ill. The unvaccinated make up 87 per cent of all COVID-19 ICU patients, she said.

Over in Tobago, the newly installed Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) leadership of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has had little time to celebrate their landslide victory as there is a pandemic crisis. Over the Christmas weekend, the Farley Augustine-led administration will have to oversee the installation of a 20-foot container near the hospital to store up to 45 dead bodies because the mortuary is full.

The increasing body count is also a problem in Trinidad and a storage facility for corpses is currently being prepared in Freeport.

With so much death and gloom all around, it is difficult to understand the logic of those who continue to vigorously argue against vaccine requirements of any kind, even for those on the frontlines of a pandemic that is showing no signs of easing.

The term mandatory vaccine is being bandied about and has become a rallying cry for trade unions and anti-vaxxers who are mobilizing to wage war against a plan to make public sector workplaces safe zones. However, they have not suggested any alternatives to protect our population from COVID-19.

Amid all the noise and fury and claims of abuse of power, the fact that thousands of lives have been directly saved through COVID-19 vaccination has been conveniently ignored.

Too often, strategies to stave off the coronavirus are derailed by ideologies and beliefs, not based on readily available scientific facts, but myths churned out by anti-vaxxers posing as experts on social media. As a result, disease and death continue to stalk this land.

Any discussions about compulsory vaccinations need to move well beyond rights to include the urgency of preventing potential harm. The aim should also be balancing conflicting rights.

This is a challenge faced by nations around the world where, in the battle against COVID-19, freedom of choice now is diametrically opposed to the right to life.

A significant segment of our population supports mandatory vaccines, regarding that measure, not as punitive or draconian, but protective. Their views should be taken into consideration.

Ways must be found to protect citizens, including workers in high-risk environments, from this life-threatening pandemic. And it is not only lives that need to be protected but T&T’s economy and the very fabric of our society.

So, what is the alternative to making workplaces safe zones? What else can be done to reduce the health threat from workers who refuse the vaccine? Certainly, workers have a responsibility to cooperate with their employers in maintaining safety and health objectives in the workplace.

There are solid scientific facts supporting the use of vaccines to eradicate COVID-19. On the other hand, the no vaccine option does not align with a right we should all embrace—a healthy life.