Flashback February: A section participants at a candlelight vigil calling for an end to violence against women in Gasparillo.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday that he does not need anyone to defend him on his stance that the current spike in COVID-19 cases started with the vigils held after the death of Andrea Bharatt.

Questions have been raised about the political independence of the technical director of the Epidemiology Division Dr Avery Hinds, after he said on Wednesday that the spike in COVID-19 numbers pre-dated Easter, although Hinds presented graphs and data to support his point.

However, he’s been accused by many online commentators of defending the Prime Minister.

Rowley yesterday said he did not need Hinds to defend him.

“Do I look like I need anybody to defend me? Graphs and statistics are not alien to me,” the PM said in response to questions.

“I expect to hear that nonsense from some who create lies and misinformation to vigorously try to protect their position by accusations of political persuasion, race and religion.”

On Wednesday, Hinds was asked directly to weigh in and put an end to the ongoing battle of whether it was the vigils or the long Easter weekend activity in Tobago that led to the surge in current cases. However, he said that the surge pre-dated Easter.

He said it was a confluence of issues that led to the spike, including the reopening of sports and churches, along with pre-Easter activities.

But some comments on social media said that Hinds was “singing for his supper” and “suddenly” changing his words to support the Prime Minister.

In an April 22 article, Hinds reportedly described the surge in numbers at that time as stemming “from the Easter weekend.”

However, in that same report, Hinds said that it was “one of the driving factors” behind the spike.

Hinds was interviewed on the i95.5 FM morning programme yesterday and while he was the subject of much debate about his possible political allegiance, he spoke mostly about the vaccines and was not questioned about much else.

With regards to the global vaccine hesitancy, Hinds said that that was not the case in T&T.

“Firstly, I’d like to point out that what we are seeing in our population at least, is a great deal of vaccine acceptance. We are seeing people clamouring for the vaccine,” he said.

He said that people were actually complaining that they were not getting the vaccine as quickly as they would like.

“The response to the vaccine is built on our Caribbean experience with vaccination across the board. We’re accustomed to the concept,” he said.

Hinds said the vaccine helps your body recognise the virus in the future and gives you a better chance at fighting it off.

“It gives you protection against getting severely ill,” he said.

Hinds admitted a vaccinated person can still get the virus.

“It’s not 100 per cent you won’t get the virus after the vaccine, but you don’t get the severe illness that leads to hospitalisation and sometimes to death,” he said.

He said that the hesitancy locally was generated by misinformation.

“You are getting people that are sharing things that aren’t facts as if they are facts. You are getting people sharing all sorts of non-scientific information into this very congested information pathway that we all access,” he said.

Hinds said the amount of information could sometimes lead to confusion.

“That is understandable,” he said.

He added that he encouraged people to look at reliable sources of information, including the Ministry of Health’s press updates.

Hinds said that some 60 to 70 per cent of people needed to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.

“For us, that is our entire adult population,” he said.

Hinds also said that even if someone had the virus and overcame it, they still had to be vaccinated.

He also said that the vaccines are not “interchangeable” and once you received the first shot of one vaccine, your second shot must be from the same manufacturer.

“You cannot commingle or mix them,” he said.

Hinds commended the majority of the population for obeying the social distancing rules and for wearing their masks but said there are some people who “haven’t gotten it yet.”

“All I can say is that we want to encourage each other to be our brother’s keeper,” he said.

Guardian Media messaged and called Hinds but there was no response.

Another 15 die from virus

The Ministry of Health has reported another 15 deaths from the COVID-19 virus over a 24-hour reporting period.

In its daily report yesterday, the ministry also reported another 526 people had contracted the virus.

The 15 deaths yesterday took this month’s toll to 271 and the new cases brought the number of people infected this month to 11,163.

Overall deaths now stand at 440.

Active cases now stand at 8,922. There are currently 446 patients in hospitals.

According to the ministry’s data, 78,282 people have received their first doses of the vaccine while 1,179 have received their second doses.

There are 185 people in step-down facilities, 127 in State quarantine facilities and 7,765 in home quarantine.