Al Miller’s strong suit, he is keen to establish, is not logic, or trading in facts. Neither, by extension, is his gift science. Science is founded in logic and facts.
That does not mean that Mr Miller, a fundamentalist Christian pastor who owns a megachurch, is without influence and status. Thousands of people listen to his sermons. He has been appointed by Jamaican governments to oversee social initiatives and to important boards. He is often called on by the press for his views on serious matters.
Even after falling into trouble, and convicted, separately, for transporting a disguised fugitive and the irresponsible management of his firearm, Mr Miller has been recognised with a national honour. This month, on the Independence honours list, he was inducted into the Order of Distinction, Commander Class.
It is the self-absorbed Mr Miller’s status and influence that make it vital to call out his nonfactual, unscientific, misleading and potentially dangerous statement about administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children over the age of 12. He labelled the initiative by the Jamaican Government as experimenting with children.
Jamaica is in the midst of its third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between the beginning of August and last Sunday (August 22), 9,477 new cases of the virus were confirmed in the island. That means that over those 22 days, the number of cases, since the first one was reported in March 2020, jumped approximately 18 per cent. Jamaicans are not only being infected with COVID-19. More of us are dying from it. Over the review period, there were 206 deaths, increasing the number since the end of July by 17 per cent, to 1,402. And the casualties of infections and deaths are growing younger.
In the early days of COVID-19, it was largely an old people’s disease, especially with respect to people who died from it. The preponderance of the victims were people over 70. But of those who died in Jamaica in August, nearly two-thirds (65.5 per cent) were under 70. Roughly 22 per cent (45) were people in their sixties, and 20 per cent (41) were in their fifties. Eighteen per cent (38) were in their forties, and five cent (11) in their thirties.
Further, while they might not die as frequently, the health ministry has reported that younger people are increasingly becoming seriously ill with the virus. And young people, even when they do not become seriously ill from the virus, can transmit it to others.
This evolution of COVID-19 is not unique to Jamaica. Globally, especially since the advent of the more virulent Delta variant of the virus, unvaccinated people, including children, are at greater risk of contracting and, therefore, transmitting, the disease. If there is any upside to this crisis, it is the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed – the result of ongoing research because of the crossover to humans, in the past two decades, of several coronaviruses. It is similar, robust scientific research that established that the Pfizer vaccine is suitable for the inoculation of children over 12. Up to now, no other vaccine has been similarly designated.
NO BASIS IN FACT
The Rev Al Miller, however, is not only denying the science, but has ascribed to the Government obligation and motive that have no basis in fact. Worse, he has put on display a gross form of crooked thinking. He claimed in a statement, reported by The Jamaica Observer, that Jamaica’s leaders were “under intense international pressure, bound by some unwise treaties and conventions signed”. What those treaties and conventions are, he did not say, and this newspaper could find none that obligated Jamaica to insist on the vaccination of any person, much more demand that it “volunteer our children for experiments”.
Rev Miller not only posited this apparent fabrication (for which there are probably more suitable and precise synonyms), but doubled down on his illogic in an interview with The Jamaica Observer. He said: “…Give full information and let those who want to be part of the experiment choose to do so; you cannot make participation in an experiment compulsory and certainly don’t volunteer our children into the experimental phase, worst when it is not absolutely necessary because there are alternative protocols.”
Insofar as this newspaper is aware, there is not a vaccination mandate in Jamaica. Thus far, the Government has attempted moral suasion to get people to take COVID-19 vaccines. Regarding a return to face-to-face classroom teaching, the education minister has said that priority will be given to students who are vaccinated.
In a blatant bit of falsehood, Rev Miller claimed that “at the beginning, they told us this (presumably vaccines) would solve the problem, but then now they are agreeing that this is in the experimental phase”. We challenge Rev Miller to produce any statement or literature from any reputable scientists in Jamaica, or anywhere in the world, who said that vaccination was an absolute, or immediate, end to COVID-19. And on what basis does he claim that the vaccines are in the ‘experimental phase’, in the sense they are just now being tested on humans?
Like all vaccines, those for COVID-19, based on the evidence, dramatically reduce the possibility of someone contracting the virus. If they do, it lessens the possibility of such people being seriously ill. Rev Miller must explain, on a scientific basis, why he claims vaccines for COVID-19 cannot be “compared to rubella [vaccines] and all the others”.
Maybe it is that Rev Miller communes with a higher order and doesn’t operate in the realm of science. The truth is possibly simpler: that Al Miller never sees a stage he should not be on and a spotlight he should not be before, no matter the ridiculousness of the performance. He will be heard. And there is always the possibility of a national honour.