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Prof Christopher Oura

Rishard [email protected]

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt be defined by vaccinations and with larger nations such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom already underway with its inoculations just as T&T is set to begin its drive in the coming weeks, a safe border reopening is on the horizon. Safe and effective vaccines have been hailed as the smoking gun in bringing the pandemic under control and saving lives.

Although there is yet to be a definitive date set in stone by the Government for when borders would reopen, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley alluded that the uptake in vaccinations globally and locally would positively influence such a move. “The opening of borders was always very heavily influenced by the discovery and availability of a vaccine or vaccines. We are now at the stage where vaccine availability is now reaching a point where we could think in terms of inoculating the populations that will be mixing,” The Prime Minister said at a press conference at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort on Wednesday. “The United States, our main contact outside of Trinidad and Tobago, has indicated that…by May their population should have vaccines and be sufficiently inoculated where people can mix without the fear of heavy or any infections at all. Once that happens…then the opening of borders will become a reality,” he also said.

Weighing in on the Prime Minister’s train of thought, Virology Professor at the University of the West Indies Dr Christopher Oura told Guardian Media: “I think the Prime Minister’s right in that Trinidad can start thinking about what needs to be done to open the borders.” Oura said several things needed to be considered when making such a decision. Firstly, he said that vaccine efficacy and safety would need to be evaluated. “The first thing is how effective the vaccination programme is going and the evidence that is being seen (is) that it’s actually stopping disease. It’s stopping serious disease,” he said.

Secondly, he said, the vaccine’s ability to stop transmission would need to be considered. “The evidence is very good that it (all the vaccines so far) is significantly reducing the chances of people actually getting the virus and transmitting it,” he noted. “That’s what you need to take into consideration to start with…the vaccine is actually working better than we hoped. Better than we ever hoped.” He said risk assessment also needs to be done looking at the risks in both the source country and destination country. The risk of importing the virus to the country through travel, he said, can depend on the inoculation levels in the source country. The risk of the virus latching on and spreading in T&T, he said, would depend on the local inoculation levels. The level of virus circulating within a population is linked to the vaccination levels within it, he said. Oura predicts that by the middle of 2021, the country would be able to make determinations on how to proceed with allowing travel from countries that have sufficiently inoculated their populations.