Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley addresses the media during yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, Port-of-Spain. Also in the picture are Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

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Although some citizens fear the COVID-19 vaccine is a ploy by global authorities to alter the human genome, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says he will be first in line for the inoculation when the drug reaches Trinidad and Tobago. So confident is he in the science, Rowley said he will even recommend the vaccine to his family. During yesterday’s COVID-19 media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, Port-of-Spain, Rowley said science was the best basis to understand and respond to the virus while ignorance was not. As a five-year-old boy in Mason Hall, Tobago, Rowley said even then he trusted the science. He recalled his primary school years when he got vaccinated for smallpox and then as a government minister, ensuring he was immunised so he could travel to Europe. He said vaccinations were around a long time and were proven to work.

“I trust the rigours of the scientific input at the labs and the international agencies that are supervising the work, the ethical behaviour and the scientific numbers of those who put forward the outcome. So when WHO signs off on what is acceptable as a vaccine for the people of Trinidad & Tobago, I will be the first in line to have my vaccine,” Rowley said.

He told Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh that he could be second in line.

He added: “As long as it is signed off by WHO as the scientific product for this purpose, I have no hesitation in taking it myself or recommending it for my family. There is nothing that you can offer to the world that will get 100 per cent support from the human population and therefore, I will not be fazed by the comments about what vaccines we can and cannot get.”

Jokingly, he said he understood the vaccination programme is designed to breed new human beings who could be manipulated by their smartphones.

“I read too much of Dick Tracy when I was growing up to allow that.”

He said healthcare and elderly care providers would be in the first group for vaccination when it arrives here. However, he said the promised numbers are being reduced and he would not be surprised if the first batch sent to T&T is not the percentage contained in the Government’s agreement.

While the Government looks forward to vaccines in the first half of 2021, the discovery of a COVID-19 variant (VUI-202012/01) brings some uncertainty on the overall effectiveness, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram.

Parasram said he received communication from the World Health Organisation that the variant was under investigation from December 1, explaining it was a mutation of the virus. He said researchers categorise virus mutations as Antigenic Shifts; which are small changes in the genes or Antigenic Shift; an abrupt or large change in a virus, resulting in new proteins.

While there can be implications for treatment and vaccine efficacy with drifts, Parasram said it was too early to tell what kind of mutation took place. Regarding the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, he said the company stated that it required two weeks to determine the mutation’s impact on vaccine efficacy and it will present its findings to the world.

“I do not want to preempt what they are going to find to say that it is not going to work in the same form or fashion. Let them have the two weeks, do the research, and I am sure they will come back to say what they found at that point in time,” Parasram said.

The new strain was found recently in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Iceland and the Netherlands.

While there are claims that the new strain has higher transmissibility, Parasram said the research is still outstanding and he will wait for the researchers’ findings.

Meanwhile, Technical Director-Epidemiology Division Dr Avery Hinds said as Christmas shopping has increased over the last few weeks, the daily caseload is trending upward. He said two weeks ago, the “rolling seven-day average” was around 15 cases per day, while it is now 18-19 cases-per-day.

Although the Ministry of Health expected this as shopping and mingling increased, Hinds said it reflects in the case numbers. He warned that if this continues, the numbers will continue to grow.

As people complete last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve and rush to Boxing Day sales, Thoracic Medical Director at the Caura Hospital, Dr Michelle Trotman, also urged citizens to follow the ministry’s guidelines for safe business operations.

Trotman warned that some businesses were not adhering to the guidelines to allow 50 per cent capacity. She said as her team observed the public, the were seeing crowded stores where people were not adequately distancing themselves from each other.

“Make it your responsibility that if you go to those areas as I do, Minister Young does, CMO does, and you are not comfortable, remove yourself from that environment,” Trotman said.

With Tobago hotels and guest houses heavily booked this weekend, Rowley also warned Trinidadians that the island was not a free-up zone. He said the police would thwart plans to host parties and urge citizens to not let the gains made in the battle against COVID-19 be undone by irresponsible action in one week.