Escaping the stifling grip of COVID-19 requires herd immunity which should be the main objective of T&T’s public health authorities. That means ensuring that enough people develop immunity, either from vaccination or past infection, to stop the coronavirus from easily jumping from person to person.
A well planned and carefully implemented vaccination programme aimed at immunizing at least 70 per cent of the population seems the obvious choice, which is why it is perplexing that greater efforts aren’t being made to secure more vaccine doses.
The nation has been hearing from Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh that the main option is the COVAX facility from which an initial 100,000 to 120,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has already been ordered. However, those vaccines will be enough for just about 50,000 people—way off the numbers required in our population of 1.4 million for herd immunity.
Apart from that, save for the 2,000 doses that were a gift from Barbados, there seem to be no concrete arrangements to secure additional vaccines.
Instead, there appears to be some reticence about going the route of the Barbados and Dominica governments which have already obtained AstraZeneca vaccines. Their consignments of the made in India Covishield vaccines arrived this week.
T&T, on the other hand, has been slow off the starting blocks and only on Wednesday started administering first doses to frontline health workers from the vaccines gifted by the Mia Mottley administration in Barbados.
Yesterday, even as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was being praised by Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, information was coming to hand of some hesitancy in accepting vaccines from India.
Talks have only just begun with India about getting vaccines from that country, never mind that our nations have enjoyed almost six decades of strong diplomatic relations.
The extra caution in seeking WHO validation before fully exploring India’s AstraZeneca option seems unnecessary when one considers that India is a vaccine powerhouse, producing 60 per cent of the world’s vaccines. The Covishield vaccine is manufactured by Bharat Biotech, a vaccine maker with a portfolio of 16 vaccines and exports to 123 countries.
T&T needs to step up its vaccine game, particularly given persistent concerns about discrimination in distributions around the world. To date, only 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccinations.
Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke out about “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution and called for an urgent Global Vaccination Plan to ensure a more equitable system.
In these circumstances risks ending up at the back of the queue if it doesn’t step up its vaccine acquisition game. There is in-country capacity to store substantial quantities of doses—more than 300,000 at 2 to 8 degrees, 200,000 at -20 degrees and 200,000 at -70 degrees Celsius—so there is no need to settle for a small amount.
Too much hesitation on the vaccine front could be risky.