The arrival of the virulent Brazilian variant to T&T, combined with a sharp spike last week to 1,305 active cases and 158 deaths, are COVID-19 red flags we can no longer ignore.
India was a victim of its own complacency due to its early successes in curtailing the second wave and its vaccine manufacturing capabilities.
Like us, India opened up their economy, which was correct to save livelihoods, but people got complacent, reverted to populist mass gatherings, leading to melting crematoriums, mass graves, a collapsed health system.
In Trinidad, the complacency comes from partygoers at zesser fetes, wedding guests from Kelly Village to receptions in Fairways, pushing us towards another lockdown leading to a jump from two new cases a day in March to as high as 167 a day. To put it in perspective, these numbers are higher than the UK's rate of infection and roughly 50 per cent of India's infection rate.
Given that lockdowns are damaging to all economies and throw more people into poverty, mass vaccination is the only solution.
When this round of AstraZeneca vaccinations (73,600 doses) is complete, only about two to three per cent of us will be vaccinated.
With over 300,000 new cases a day, a shortage of raw vaccine materials, India needs the vaccines initially promised to COVAX.
The African Medical Supplies Platform has promised us 85,000 more with no confirmed arrival date.
There are reports we won't be getting AstraZeneca till September. Moderna; Sanofi; Sinopharm–all up in the air.
Partial lockdowns as we currently have and strict adherence to the Government's COVID guidelines are all we must keep us safe until we get sufficient vaccines to protect 70 per cent of us–that's some 1.9 million vaccine doses, assuming two jabs for maximum efficacy.
This past fortnight as the Government rolled out its first major COVID-19 vaccination programme of AstraZeneca jabs revealed the discrepancy in the take-up rates of the vaccine between different sections of our population.
Many people from low-income areas, both urban and rural, hesitated to book appointments and failed to show up to many of the 26 centres beautifully set up across the country. Medical staff rightly didn't turn away people who did show up from outside these communities.
The divide was never so clear. I hope I'm proven wrong, but it appeared that those most eager for the vaccine were people from more prosperous, more educated areas of Trinidad.
I took my elderly parents to the Morvant Health Centre, reassigned from Barataria Health Centre. The facility was spotless and organised, the nurses exceptionally efficient and kind, and our experience was echoed in health centres countrywide.
But many people who qualified for these rounds of the vaccine and who were most at risk with chronic diseases (ridiculously high in T&T) didn't show up.
It was heartbreaking.
From Morvant to Couva, I heard everything from the bizarre (the vaccine turns you
into a horse) to the rumoured (it gives you herpes, erectile dysfunction, makes chronic illnesses worse and makes you barren). Others said COVID-19 is a set up by big pharma. Most people who refused to take the vaccine are mistrustful of government authority because they don't trust their interests have been served by successive governments who remain unaccountable to the populace.
All their concerns need to be addressed.
People must get a clear message that the vaccines are safe, safer than the higher probability of getting very ill or dying from the virus.
The Government must partner with the media or create a mass education campaign in a short space of time before the next batch of vaccines arrives. Unless we get herd immunity of between 70-90 per cent, people will die from COVID and our health service will be overwhelmed. Check India.
Worldwide the COVID-19 virus has disproportionately attacked the vulnerable–the elderly, the poor, and those with co-morbidities. Trinidad will be no exception, especially as our incidence of chronic diseases is ridiculously high.
Any spending for vaccines and awareness will be lower than the lockdown cost to the economy ($6 billion last year).
This vaccine drive showed us clearly that Government needs to regain the population's trust and for leadership by example, so they protect rather than punish our most vulnerable. As India has shown us, the collapse of citizens in a pandemic brings nations to their knees.