Yesterday’s announcement by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh that his ministry was preparing itself for the eventual receipt and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine is welcome news for a nation that has suffered so much for so long as a result of the pandemic.
Make no bones about it, like the rest of the world, this pandemic has cost T&T in both treasure and blood.
More than 100 of our citizens have lost their lives as a result of it, hundreds of businesses are no more, thousands are unemployed as a result and billions of dollars have been lost.
So the news of the two recent successful trials of COVID-19 vaccine could not have come earlier for the world and T&T.
According to the Minister of Health, this country is aiming to receive doses from the vaccine developed by the American pharmaceutical company Moderna on two main grounds. The first is that it has proven more efficacious in the prevention of the virus than Pfizer’s version and secondly, it does not require the extreme cold temperatures that Pfizer’s vaccine needs.
Minister Deyalsingh said the advantage of the Moderna vaccine is that it can be stored at much higher temperatures than the Pfizer vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored between -70 to -80 degrees Celcius, a logistical challenge for most countries. However, the Moderna vaccine can be stored at around -20 degrees Celcius for up to six months. The Moderna vaccine can also be thawed and kept between two to eight degrees Celcius for 30 days and is stable at room temperature for 12 hours.
Logistically, Minister Deyalsingh said it would be easier to store and distribute the Moderna vaccines and the ministry has also chosen three sites to store it.
While we applaud the ministry’s efforts to ensure that it is ready and organised for when the vaccine reaches our shores, we warn citizens that now is not the time to let our guards down, as there remains a real danger to our economy and the health and safety of citizens.
Having said that, the Government must start to position the country for the post-COVID-19 world.
T&T has been forced to change in many ways. Digitisation and the use of technology promise to make us a more efficient society, but to truly achieve this requires major changes in legislation to allow for digital payment, a movement to a cashless society and a relook at businesses, particularly those in distribution and retail.
We must also consider how we fashion a new economy, with a world that is less dependent on fossil fuels and where our major commodities of oil, gas and petrochemicals are likely to be less valuable to the world in the not too distant future.
Now is a time of guarded optimism, but what is also required is inspirational leadership.