By Robert Milders
If Agnes Edwards worked in the comedy trade, where timing is everything, she wouldn’t be quite ready for the downtown comedy club, much less prime time.
In her February 10 commentary on this website, Agnes encourages expats to report those who use or sell fake vaccine cards. She seems to relish the prospect that violators could spend years in prison or, in the case of expats, be deported, if they are found guilty.
The problem with her advice is that the mandate for vaccine cards expired January 22. They were, in fact, required for a month, beginning December 23, for stores, restaurants and offices under government capacity restrictions. A few businesses still request the certificate based on a government recommendation, but most don’t.
She might also not be aware that the Health Ministry’s mandate that all citizens and residents be vaccinated was rescinded hours after it was issued on December 23 – apparently on orders from President Lasso.
During the month when vaccines were required to get into some businesses, the Attorney General’s Office reported a total of 23 arrests nationwide regarding the mandate, 17 for businesses that did not ask for proof of vaccination and six for people who presented fake cards. None of those cases have been prosecuted.
My next door neighbor, a judge in the family division of the provincial court, says he is unaware of any arrests for fake vaccine cards in Cuenca. He says that even if there were, they are unlikely to be prosecuted since the mandate has been lifted. He says there is a backlog of “real crimes” awaiting adjudication that would take priority.
He also said that it is the policy of government offices that required proof of vaccination – and still require, in some cases – to give a warning to those it suspects of showing a fake cards. The card checkers don’t have time to conduct internet searches on the health ministry’s system that more often than not is malfunctioning.
My point? Forget about reporting those you suspect of using counterfeit vaccine cards. It would be a waste of time since nothing will come of it.
I am certainly not advocating using fake cards — or manufacturing them. Yes, it is against the law even if the law is not being enforced.
Based on a vaccine mandate in Greece, Agnes also suggests that expats who refuse to be vaccinated be fined. Again, it aint gonna happen. She’s obviously unaware of the language in Ecuador’s constitution that requires equal treatment for everyone in the country, including legal residents and visitors. Expats have the same rights as citizens.
What bothers me most is Agnes’ insistence that the non-vaxxed be punished. I am reminded of the blue-overalled Spy Corps in George Orwell’s novel 1984. She is part of the angry mob I see daily on social media discussions about the pandemic, vaccines and health rules, including on this site. Although some commenters offer cool-headed observations, many others seem to be out for blood, their opinions absolutely, positively correct and all others be damned. The commentary is an apt illustration for Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer.”
Speaking of true believers, I fully support the World Health Organization’s recommendation that vaccines be voluntary but strongly encouraged through public health information programs. Personally, I am vaccinated and convinced of the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, partly because of my connection with vaccine research at the University of California-Irvine. On the other hand, I am against mandates. There are many reasons people resist vaccination, including for health conditions, but no one should be forced to be vaccinated or punished if they refuse.
My hope is that the Covid-19 virus continues to morph into something like the common cold or, at worst, the seasonal flu, and that life returns to some semblance of normalcy. At that point, Agnes can take up new pursuits — maybe going after jay walkers in El Centro. As she says, “lives are at stake.”
As a postscript, I would like to thank David Morrill and CuencaHighLife for allowing me to respond to Ms. Edwards column. I sincerely wish her all the best.
Robert Milders was a family practice physician in Medford, Oregon before he retired and moved to Cuenca in 2017. He was a health columnist for the Portland Oregonian and the Ashland Daily Tidings, where he often wrote in support of childhood vaccination.