The first phase of Trinidad and Tobago’s vaccine rollout from the 33,600 doses received via the COVAX facility begins today and among those to be vaccinated are Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley—at least that’s what the country was told at an April 1 news conference.
The 33,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines have an expiry date of May 31. Given that the World Health Organisation has indicated that the second dose must be given 8-12 weeks after receipt of the first, it means health officials have two options. It is either they use all 33,600 shots to administers both doses, in which case they will be able to administer the vaccines to 16,800 people, or they administer the 33,600 jabs as first does, in which case they will have to pray that the second batch arrives as promised next month.
The sad reality is that from the get-go on the vaccine issue, it’s been a hit and miss approach taken by the local authorities. Perhaps they were so overjoyed by international praise of this country’s handling of the COVID virus that vaccines may have been the last thing on anyone’s minds. So although we have been hearing that T&T had got on the vaccine train since September last year, it seems that other countries were well ahead of us, even our Caricom neighbours, some of whom have already vaccinated tens of thousands of citizens compared to T&T.
It’s a full year into the pandemic and worse yet, although the public discussion on the acquisition has been ongoing for several months, the Ministry of Health is now moving to set up a system for persons wanting to be vaccinated.
Health officials have spent months in the public’s face about preparations for the fight against the disease and the vaccines, Minister Deyalsingh, Chief Medical Officer, et al, but are yet to produce a workable vaccination plan.
World Health Organisation statistics are clear, for vaccines to have an impact there must be herd immunity. This means T&T would need 1,476,143 doses to inoculate 738,071 people to hit the 75% of the population necessary.
But at even 1,000 doses a day, if the entire vaccine-eligible population was to be inoculated, it would take over four years!
Even as the vaccine rollout begins today, there are concerns about the increasing number of deaths and recent spike in cases. But the fact is that without some kind of clear Government vaccination plan, there is no sense of when life will return to normal. The threat of a second lockdown now looms and many still suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19 see no light at the end of the tunnel. Soon, the country will know the fallout from gatherings this past Easter weekend, which may prompt either a second lockdown or further rollback of health protocols now in place.
If one were to assess the Government on the vaccination of citizens, however, it has failed miserably. They have no one else to blame. Clearly, they need to admit they need help to ensure that the mechanism to vaccinate the population is ramped up.