Tuesday 07 December 2021

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

This column first appeared in Malta Today

An excellent article by Political Editor Jack Holmes published this week on Esquire.com has pointed to a new phenomenon: the fact that we may have become addicted to bad news.  Entitled “We need to prepare for the possibility that something good might happen” it examines why, after the gruelling year the world has been through (and is still experiencing) the human psyche seems unable to accept that things might actually start changing for the better. 

Of course, it is perfectly understandable that we have been so psychologically scarred by the daily Covid-19 coverage, with its grim list of positive cases and deaths, and with every day seeming to bring with it a new variant as the virus mutates, that many cannot bear to allow themselves to think that this way of life will end any time soon.  They have resigned themselves to the inevitable and are very fatalistic. On top of that, many have experienced Covid-19 first hand, either through the untimely death of a loved one, or the lingering adverse effects of long Covid where one’s health stubbornly refuses to improve, or even the mental health impact brought about by isolation, constant worry and anxiety. Combine all this with financial worries if the breadwinner has lost their job or has seen a drastic cut in income, and it is no wonder that it is difficult for some to look at the future with any optimism. 

Even the fact that there has been an unprecedented worldwide effort to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible and that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, has not allayed many people’s fears.  I have noticed this for months now, that an uplifting article gets a lukewarm reaction (or worse, sarcastic laughs and cynicism), but if you post something packed with negative news and foreboding, many lap it up and it immediately goes viral.  

Holmes puts his finger on the issue when he says, “…it might be time for many of us to assess whether we’ve developed a kind of Stockholm Syndrome relationship with negative information. Are we addicted to bad news? After so many days and weeks and months of being bombarded with it day after day, have our brains developed a need or expectation that it will consistently arrive? Do things feel weird or uncomfortable without it? In short, as we asked above, are we ready to acknowledge the possibility that good things might happen, and soon?”

This was also brought home to me with the often schizophrenic attitude towards the vaccination roll-out.  One minute you have teachers clamouring to jump the queue and the next, one of their unions (Union of Professional Educators) issued a statement expressing its concerns about the Astra Zeneca vaccine: “The Union has its reservations on the matter since this brand of vaccine is supposedly less effective than other brands such as Pfizer. The UPE is adamant to make sure that the best brand is given to our front-liners in the educational sector since educators deserve, and require, the maximum protection against COVID-19.”

I’m afraid my reaction to this was just exasperation because, while I have always stuck up for teachers, they are now quickly reaching a point where this union in particular is not doing them any favours at all.  This insistence that they should be given some kind of special treatment is now grating on everyone’s nerves and while some allowances can be made for why they are so anxious, at the end of the day, there are many other groups of vulnerable, high risk people who are equally anxious and afraid of becoming infected. And, now that teachers are being offered a vaccine ahead of others, hearing this union complain about this as well, was really the last straw.  I wonder how Maltese teachers would have reacted if they were in UK were the roll out is happening strictly according to age groups, irrespective of one’s job, and that includes teachers who are expected back in the classrooms on 8 March.  According to the latest BBC report, this means that those aged 40-49 will only start receiving the vaccine in mid-April. Those who are younger simply have to wait their turn.

Thankfully the other teachers’ union, the MUT, was more sensible and said that, “it trusted the medical experts to decide which vaccines should be given to whom. The union said unless it has advice to the contrary, it has no position for or against the use of any of the vaccines.” 

This whole Covid-19 ordeal has been wearying for everyone, and as much as I have tried to be understanding and compassionate when reading certain laments, my patience has now worn thin. I think I must mentally slap people silly at least ten times a day. The latest one is people complaining because they have been sent to a vaccination centre which is not on their doorstep (“I live in Fgura and they sent me to Mellieha”).  I mean, come on, seriously? Every weekend I see a snake of cars winding their way towards the North of Malta and I would bet my bottom dollar that many hail from the South. So if you can exert yourself to drive all the way to the other side of the island in bumper to bumper traffic for your Sunday outing, I’m sure you can manage to do the same for a vital vaccine.   

If someone who is being offered the vaccine (any vaccine) starts making a fuss, my reply is simply, fine, don’t take it and let other front liners or those who are high risk who want it get the jab instead. It is useless to continue to whine and moan about the fear of becoming infected when you are being offered a solution, only to act like a prima donna and stamp your feet.  After all, the goal of every country is to aim for herd immunity through a high rate of inoculation among the population and I’m sure that for every drama queen making a song and dance about the brand of vaccine they want, there are several others who will willingly take their place. 

As Queen Elizabeth who took her jab without a murmur rightly said, we should think about other people rather than ourselves.  Frankly, if a 94-year-old woman who has lived through so much can look at life with such a positive, altruistic attitude, then it should not be that difficult for the rest of us.  

A question for Charmaine

We are often invited to “Ask Charmaine” (Prof Gauci) questions, so here is mine, based on information I have received. Is it true that staff at a certain Ministry were all given the vaccine this week, completely jumping the queue in a blatant case of preferential treatment? If it is true then it is a slap in the face for many of those 80+ who for some reason are still waiting for their official letter, as well as for high risk patients such as those who have had organ transplants, who are afraid to leave their homes until they get inoculated. 

We know that this is a country where having the right connections helps you get what you want quickly, but in a health crisis situation, this abuse is appalling. 

If, on the other hand, there was a valid reason why the ministerial staff were vaccinated before others, we should be told, because at this rate, everyone is going to insist that they are front liners.  

Until we get an answer to this question, like the famous Monty Python song, we can always look on the bright side of life — it seems that anti-vaxxers in this country are in the minority and the uptake for the vaccine will be quite high. 

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