In a Rastafarian farming community perched in the hills above the Jamaican capital, locals with dreadlocks gather at the temple to worship and celebrate with Bible readings, traditional drumming and chanting. No COVID-19 protocol is in place. This isolated community of a hundred people called the School of Vision has so far escaped the ravages of the pandemic. They attribute to traditional medicine, such as root wine and herbs such as neem, bitter wood and ginger, to have helped repel the virus, and do not want to be vaccinated.
Jamaica has reported around 16,800 infections and 350 deaths per 1 million people, according to statistics compiled by Reuters – fewer than many other countries in the region. But the closures to control the spread have taken a toll on the economy, and particularly the tourism on which the Caribbean island relies, and authorities are keen to secure and deploy vaccines to get back to normal.
One of the challenges they face is vaccine skepticism, which is widely shared by Jamaican Rastafarians, who tend to be wary of Western medicine and institutions, in part because of a long history of racial injustice. “There is some danger in (vaccines) and that’s why I don’t take it and encourage it,” Dermot Fagon, 66, the dreadlocked priest at the School of Vision, told Reuters. He said he was concerned that this would allow authorities to track people via a microchip, a conspiracy theory that has also spread to other parts of the world.
Although the school of vision itself is small and marginal, the Rastafari – who make up about 5-10% of Jamaica’s nearly 3 million people – have a disproportionate influence on society. Prominent Rastafarian reggae and dancehall artists like Spragga Benz and Cocoa Tea have expressed skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines, influencing their large audiences on social media.
Only 32% of Jamaicans said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recently released Gallup poll – one of the highest vaccine reluctance rates in the world and well below the around 60-70% that experts from the World Health Organization considered it necessary to obtain collective immunity. The Jamaican government is aware of the doubts of the Rastafarian community and has prepared for the reality that not all Jamaicans will take the vaccine, Department of Health permanent secretary Dunstan Bryan told Reuters.
“Collective immunity can be achieved without all of these populations being vaccinated,” he said. SKEPTICISM
The Rastafari movement developed in Jamaica in the 1930s after a prophecy that a black man would be crowned king in Africa and Haile Selassie was later appointed Ethiopian emperor. Blending Old Testament Christian prophecy and Pan-African political consciousness, the Rastafarian philosophy and lifestyle have become famous around the world thanks to the reggae songs of Bob Marley.
Fagon says he went to the mountains outside the capital Kingston years ago to avoid the evils of modern Western society, which Rastafari calls “Babylon,” and to live a more natural and harmonious life. “We don’t like synthetics,” Patrick Barrett, a popular reggae artist known as Tony Rebel, told Reuters, adding that food was his medicine. “I would prefer the natural order of things.
Jahlani Niaah, professor of Rastafari studies at the University of the West Indies, said “average Jamaicans are more skeptical” because of mistrust of Rastafarians. Other groups like evangelical churches also advise against vaccines. So far, authorities have only fully immunized about 57,000 people – not even 2% of the population – because they have struggled to obtain the necessary supplies.
For some Rastafarians, this is just a story. “This is a false alarm,” popular reggae artist Worin Shaw, 44, known as Jah Bouks, told Reuters. “They make a lot of things, the government and the scientists. It’s a money making thing, you know that.”
(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)