This country has marked many grim milestones since COVID-19 surfaced here in March 2020, the majority connected to the number of citizens lost to the disease.

But a milestone worth celebrating has been achieved exactly one year after the first vaccines against the coronavirus were administered locally. There are now 700,000 people here who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19–approximately 50 per cent of the population.

While the country is still far off the target for herd immunity, there are now many more citizens who have significantly reduced their chance of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalisation, and death.

This time last year, the first doses of a WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine were administered to frontline health workers. That landmark event took place at the Couva Multi-Training Facility using doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Government of Barbados.

A month later, the first tranche of 33,600 doses from the COVAX Facility arrived in the country and T&T’s vaccination programme shifted into high gear.

The concern then was getting adequate supplies of vaccines to cover the population. Vaccine supply is no longer a problem, but hesitancy, driven by anti-vax misinformation and fearmongering has slowed the rate of immunization to a crawl.

There is still a great deal of work to be done to debunk the persistent myths that are hindering the heroic efforts of T&T’s public health officials and frontline workers in the parallel system to bring COVID-19 under control.

However, this is one of those rare times in the pandemic when there are more reasons for celebration than concern. In addition to surpassing a vaccination milestone, there are promising signs that the number of new cases and fatalities are on the decline. Also, the lifting of more public health restrictions means that the country is closer to some semblance of normalcy.

Globally, there is now a faint sense of optimism that 2022 could be the year when we finally bring the pandemic under control. There are now enough vaccine doses to immunize the entire world, making the goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of each country’s population by mid-year much more feasible.

But while looking toward a brighter future it is important not to lose sight of the suffering and loss that the pandemic has inflicted. As of this weekend, COVID-19 has killed at least 5,802,609 people around the world.

An effective and economical vaccine remains the best way to combat this coronavirus successfully and save millions of lives. However, there is great scope for further research in discovering cost-effective and safer therapeutics, and strategies to ensure equitable access to prevention and treatment services.

There is real-world evidence that full vaccination plus a booster is 94 per cent effective in protecting against hospitalisation with the Delta variant and 90 per cent effective in protecting against hospitalisation with the highly infectious Omicron variant.

With solid proof all around that the COVID-19 vaccine saves lives, it is time to push harder toward the goal of getting at least 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

This message must be shared widely to break down those pockets of vaccine resistance that have slowed T&T’s progress toward herd immunity and with it the best chances of getting back to normal sooner rather than later.