One of the standout moments at yesterday’s COVID-19 update from the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s unreserved apology for the vaccination failures of the past week.
It is not often in this country’s political arena that a leader accepts responsibility when things go wrong. It seems that Dr Rowley did pay attention to the complaints and criticisms directed at his government and there is now an undertaking to fix the problems that led to the vaccination fiasco.
Anger has been added to the high levels of anxiety over what is perceived as a series of avoidable blunders in the government’s management of the pandemic. However, while his apology was timely and appropriate, Dr Rowley and his Cabinet are not yet off the hook.
The test will be whether adjustments to the system, with a new process targeting citizens 65 and older to be implemented from Wednesday, will work. This new arrangement starts with appointments being provided to people in the client base of the various regional health authorities, then moving on to other groups.
Dr Rowley admitted yesterday that his government “tried to do too much with too little” in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Now that they have been given a sobering dose of reality, we hope the authorities will be more measured in their pandemic decision-making and communications.
Even with the promise of a better-managed system for administering vaccines, the importance of expanding state/private sector collaborations to fight COVID-19 needs to be reiterated. There are still major hurdles ahead that may be successfully cleared with such partnerships.
Slow vaccine rollouts and the new variants making inroads in this population means that the risk of a new wave of infections remains high, even with recent signs that the current spike is slowly easing.
Vaccine nationalism remains a prevalent issue—even with pledges of billions of doses from the leaders of G7 who are currently meeting in England—so this country remains vulnerable to supply bottlenecks.
Recent magnanimous gestures made on the global stage and the ramping up of vaccine diplomacy will not immediately reverse the setbacks suffered in poorer nations. Dr Rowley and his administration must be mindful of that fact, even with the promise of more vaccine shipments from COVAX in addition to the doses purchased from China’s Sinopharm and Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).
Supply will remain a challenge in the foreseeable future because even with 11 vaccines already in clinical use around the world and another 80 in clinical trials, manufacture and quality control of a single batch takes three-four months.
That is why World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was so guarded in his response to the announcement of plans to produce billions of doses to vaccinate the world’s population. Even the most optimistic projections put that several months into the future.
The best prospect for T&T to date is that by next month ten per cent of citizens will be fully vaccinated. However, herd immunity is still a long way off as is the full lifting of public health restrictions.