By Raffique Shah
April 05, 2021
I suppose it had to come to this—an explosion of Covid-19 cases just when we thought we could see a ray of sunshine at the end of a year-long dark tunnel we’ve cautiously navigated, when the first tranche of vaccines had arrived, launching Trinidad and Tobago into the immunisation phase of the war against this deadly virus.
It’s not as if the surge in confirmed cases ambushed us. We were warned by the medical team that has thus far efficiently conducted the war against Covid-19, that should we continue to breach the simple safety practices that have worked for us, hence expose ourselves to regression, we would encounter a nasty backlash. But there are some among us who are plain “harden”, who must misbehave to look macho.
Over the past few weeks, I watched medical professionals across the board, possibly across the political divide, plead with people to adhere to the Covid protocols that have worked for us thus far, which can carry us to safety with minimal casualties in the shortest time possible. In fairness to the majority in the population, they have stayed strong, calling for unity in the tiring push-back against the virus, the observance of some simple measures that have worked to keep infections and deaths under control.
Maybe we can recover from this lapse and rejoin what may well be the final battle against the Covid beast. I certainly hope so. Our vaccination programme is scheduled to get under way on Tuesday. Critics have had a field day bashing the Government over what they see as a vaccination fiasco. They cite the late arrival of the medication, the small number of doses we have received, and the early expiry date on that batch. If you ask them what they would have done differently to accelerate the process, they would have no viable solutions. At this early stage of the allocation of vaccines, even large, powerful countries such as European Union members, are crying foul over the disparities they face. On top of that, many of them now face a third wave of infections and deaths that is crippling their economies and driving huge sections of their populations to their knees.
Amidst such near-chaos, any quack—especially local quacks— who tells you he has solutions to your vaccination programme, is… a quack. Look, Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is not a medical doctor, he often reminds us, but he has left the scientific dimension of the fight-back to the medical team, and the strategic aspect to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. I am sure if there was a way to source vaccines other than by COVAX or direct negotiations with the established channels, these two or their many aides would have found it.
They know we need to immunise close to one million persons by the end of this year for the exercise to have any impact on allowing the economy to be cranked up to some decent level. At a rate of 1,000 vaccinations per day, it will take us 1,000 days to get to that mark, which amounts to almost three years. Deyalsingh is no dunce, nor, I am sure, is Dr Parasram or any of the otherwise professionals who sit on the Covid management team.
If, say, we want to get there by year-end, which is nine months away, we must crank up the vaccinations rate to approximately 4,000 per day, which will mean administering an average of 200 vaccines per day at each of the 21 stations set up for that purpose. Is that achievable? I’m sure the team has done its math and it knows the answer. Factor in the two doses that many of the vaccines require and you double the daily average or the duration over which you vaccinate.
Besides protecting lives, the other aim of achieving full immunisation level is to enable all industries, services, enterprises, commercial and recreational activities to be resumed. Many if not most of these are already operational, albeit at reduced levels. It is important, also, for schools to resume for more reasons than education.
From a regional and global perspective, the reopening of borders, hence travel and trade, is critical. For the tourism sector to get anywhere close to normal, immunisation in the countries that matter most to us, is even more important than our own. Hence, people in the US and Canada, as well as Britain and Europe, are of prime concern. Once they are immunised, they are good to come.
I am satisfied that the health services and the majority of the population have done pretty well to bring us through this crisis for which no country could have pre-planned. Not everything was perfect, nor, I suppose, will exercises like the mass immunisation programme be conducted without problems. How we deal with them is what will matter.