The sting of death all around him had Roger in grief and anxious about how he would cope should he contract COVID-19.
Watching some of his fellow dialysis patients’ come down with the disease and never return from hospital made him fearful. But fear and anxiety were not enough to make him take the jab.
Roger Briggs says he would rather die from COVID-19 than take the vaccines. Already battling diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease, he was ready to take on the virus.
Driven by fears over the rapid development of the vaccines, he does not trust that they were tested sufficiently, and believes there isn’t sufficient data or science to ensure their safety.
A husband and father of four children and eight grandchildren, Roger will not take the vaccine that could protect his life.
“To what end?” he asks. “There are people who took the vaccine and didn’t do well. It may have been in the minority, but the vaccines are not working like vaccines should … “we all have to die.”
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Roger makes his way to the John Hayes Memorial Kidney Foundation (JHMKF) in Belmont on the outskirts of the city of Port of Spain for his four-hour treatment.
Because of declining health, Roger hires a taxi to transport him to and from dialysis, and the transportation cost and money for medication sometimes, are steadily biting into his meagre savings.
End stage renal disease or chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a debilitating illness that requires lifesaving treatments such as dialysis or a difficult to obtain organ transplant.
While dialysis offers people with CKD a lifeline, it too has its related complications such as hypotensive episodes, infections, cardiac arrhythmias, bleeding, and seizures.
Dialysis patients are restricted from consuming most green leafy vegetables, most tropical fruits, are discouraged from having foods with preservatives, and limited in their protein intake.
They are put on rigid diets to control their potassium, sodium, and phosphorus levels (electrolytes) which, if not managed, can lead to further complications such as heart attacks, strokes or even death.
Patients are also limited to one litre of fluid daily to prevent drowning: A process where too much fluid in the lungs that can cause patients to die of fluid overload.
Most patients lose the ability to urinate and require dialysis to remove any excess fluid and toxins from their bodies.
Already dealing with these drastic adjustments to Roger’s life, the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated an already difficult situation.
The Coming of COVID
Trinidad and Tobago registered its first COVID-19 positive case on March 12, 2020, and by the 22nd, the government closed the country’s borders to minimise exposure. While 2020 was a relatively manageable year for the country, April 2021 saw an explosion in the number of positive cases and consequent deaths.
The John Hayes Memorial Kidney Foundation registered one COVID death for 2020. Despite his best efforts, Roger contracted COVID-19 in July 2022.
Even after contracting the virus, he saw no reason for vaccine protection. He said it’s curious that the African continent with one of the lowest vaccination rates also has one of the lowest death rates.
When asked if he had to choose between dying from COVID or taking the vaccine, he calmly replied “I would not take the vaccine”.
Video by Natalee Legore
But he quickly pointed out that he’s not an anti-vaxxer. “Yes, I have taken vaccines and I would take other vaccines that have been tested and proven for at least five years”. “I’m just not taking the COVID vaccine”, he stated emphatically.
He even praised the government saying he was impressed with how it handled the pandemic until it started saying it’s us against them.
“There should be freedom of choice and people should not be bullied into taking a vaccine”.
Roger is just one of forty-eight patients at the JHMKF who is hesitant to get vaccinated.
John Hayes’ longest living dialysis patient Heather Felix said she was conflicted. This year marks 23 years she’s been on dialysis, and she believes she is doing well.
“When the pandemic started, I panicked and I was going to take the vaccine, but I was between two minds.”
“Then you keep hearing about all these side effects and blood clots, so I decided not to take it.”
Heather said after weighing her options, she is not willing to risk taking the vaccine and possibly end up with further complications.