ASJA General Secretary Rahimool Hosein

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While citizens are currently trickling into some mass vaccination sites, three of T&T’s largest religious organisations are sending a clear message to their flocks: Get Vaccinated.

“We think that the responsible thing to do is to give the pros and cons. The cons would be any side effects of vaccines, but the message we are giving to our people is that the responsible thing to do is to consider getting vaccinated,” Bishop Don Hamilton, of the Pentecostal Assembly of the West Indies (PAWI) in T&T, told Guardian Media yesterday.

Hamilton said PAWI had hosted three webinars between February and July that featured presentations by doctors and bishops. He said while PAWI is pro-vaccination, members weighed the various types of side effects. Acknowledging the religious overtones some people associated with the vaccines, he said PAWI also dispelled that vaccination is spiritually wrong in any way.

“I made a presentation recently: 10 Reasons Why We Do Not Believe it is the Mark of the Beast. We have been disseminating that particular WhatsApp video to say to the people that we do not want to embrace that view at all.”

Hamilton said getting people to accept vaccination was an uphill climb, however, as throughout the years there has always been some level of vaccine hesitancy.

Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Jason Gordon has already supported vaccination, recalling that during his childhood, children got vaccines for mumps, measles and yellow fever to protect themselves and their schoolmates. Gordon said nothing has changed and getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the same. He said in order to get back to normal life, people have to do their part and get vaccinated to suppress COVID-19.

While ASJA encourages its members to take the vaccine, general secretary Rahimool Hosein says some people are concerned with the Sinopharm vaccine. Notwithstanding its efficacy, Hosein said being vaccinated with the Chinese-made jab makes people ineligible to travel to some countries, especially Canada.

Canada does not debar people who are vaccinated with Sinopharm from entering the country, but they have to undergo a period of quarantine.

Despite this, Hosein said ASJA echoes the message from the Ministry of Health that the best vaccine available to someone is the one presented.

“As a matter of fact, as general secretary, I sent out a communique about a month ago that the life you may save maybe that of yourself or your family. We sent out that message. We are in regular communication with our imams to get the message to their flocks. Please go and take the vaccine.

Secretary-General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Vijay Maharaj, said his organisation has also been sharing its vaccination message on Radio and TV Jaagriti for the past two months.

Maharaj said the response was good, especially as the SDMS has 153 temples and 61 schools. While there is access to vaccines in the various communities where SDMS temples are situated, he said the elderly, unfortunately, have to be visited at home.

Maharaj said many SDMS teachers already got their vaccines but this would not be reflected on the records of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education as they went as individuals.

He said while members are heeding the SDMS call, there is a lot of scepticism about vaccination. He said there seem to be fewer COVID-19 casualties among the elderly than previously, but more young people were dying.

He believes the elderly are getting the vaccination message, especially as they make up most of the population at places of worship.

“If you go to talk to the Presbyterians, the Catholics, and everyone, you will find that is the case, so they are heeding the call that we are making. It is the younger persons. It has to target the younger persons, 40 and under. They have to understand that, because they feel they are Charles Atlas or Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Maharaj said.