Two things happened yesterday that should be of concern to the population. Firstly, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh announced that this country will not be getting the previously promised 100,800 COVID vaccines at month-end but a first tranche of 33,600 doses, or just under one-third of what was originally promised.
Deyalsingh explained, “We felt at this stage, with things being so uncertain in the global scene with supply not being able to keep up with the demand, that it is better to take the first tranche of 33,600 and begin our vaccination programme.”
The second occurrence was the country recording another COVID death, bringing the total to 140.
Those two things should be a cause of concern for the minister and the population. While we are told there are zero new cases, we are still uncertain about the real situation. How is contact tracing happening? Is it happening? Do we have a real sense of what is happening with the virus?
There is concern that the narrative on the arrival of the COVID vaccines seems to be changing every news conference. In October last year, the country was told the Cabinet had allocated US$9,741,236 (TT$66,142,999.23) for vaccines. Back then, the optimism was that the first tranche would be 280,000 vaccines and the second 182,000. Deyalsingh explained that COVAX would deliver in the first tranche 20 per cent of vaccines to correspond with 20 per cent of the population.
Today, the first tranche has dwindled to 33,600 doses, which means only 16,800 citizens will be able to access vaccines, very different from the number of vaccines needed for herd immunity, since it means less than two per cent of the population will be vaccinated, with a promise of more doses in April/May.
T&T remains in the line to get vaccines while we look at our neighbours in CARICOM vaccinating their populations with ‘gifts’ from India, China and in one case Russia.
One well understands that global demand for vaccines is growing but in local parlance, we are folks too and expected that by now at least some vaccines would have been here.
Had T&T not benefited from a ‘gift’ of 2,000 doses from the Barbados government, we would have been the only country in this part of the world not to have administered or received one vaccine.
Recently, there has been a debate over the request for vaccines from India. Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader penned letters to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But we seem no closer to getting vaccines from India.
It’s a moot point now to ask why we didn’t seek the assistance of the India PM earlier.
From all appearances, T&T faces an uphill battle to get vaccines. The Government may argue otherwise. It may also argue that deaths are few and far between but one death is one too many.
While vaccines provide no guarantee there will be no more deaths they offer a dose of hope.
We’ve again been given some timelines but we feel no comfort we will get the first, much less the 67,000 second tranche by April-May. Dare we hope for this elusive delivery?