Daily-Express-Editorial

The only sensible thing about yesterday’s heart-breaking and chaotic rollout of the walk-in vaccination programme was the speed with which Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh moved to apologise and announce changes.

While we worry that not enough time, thought and planning have gone into these changes, we still hope that in whittling down the immediate catchment to persons over 60 and dividing them into alphabetical groups, the programme will be more manageable today.

What occurred yesterday was worse than chaos. It was dangerous and potentially deadly. It was also predictable and therefore preventable. In two to three weeks’ time the impact of the collapse that transformed the vaccination drive into a potential super-spreader event will become evident. Our best hope is for luck.

In apologising to the country at yesterday’s Covid-19 update, Minister Deyalsingh said he had not expected such a heavy turnout for the vaccine. This is a point worth noting, especially in the context of this newspaper and others urging the Government to build its vaccination programme on the basis of scientific data on the public’s perception and attitude towards the vaccine.

We do not know where the Government is getting its information about public attitudes to the vaccine and Covid-19 restrictions from, but we are beginning to think that both Minister Deyalsingh and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley are taking their cue from the most extreme voices on social media which is not an accurate reflection of opinion across the country.

All the data collected since the vaccination programme began over a month ago indicate high demand. In the early weeks when some distribution centres reported insufficient numbers of persons for using up all the doses in the eight-dose bottle of AstraZeneca, the problem had more to do with the ministry’s failures in communication and scheduling of appointments than hesitancy. Once people figured out how to work the system they went in droves. In any case, at no point has the country had enough doses of vaccine to meet the demand that will show itself once the programme is opened up to everyone.

Vaccine demand is also being driven by the high number of deaths and positive cases. Trinidad and Tobago is at the point where everyone knows someone who has died or been hospitalised with Covid-19. The tight lid on “patient confidentiality” that once kept the public from direct knowledge of the pandemic’s impact has been blown by the sheer number of Covid-19 victims who are getting closer and closer to a panicked public. People have been wanting the vaccine to stay healthy and alive.

For the same reason, people are prepared to take the strong medicine to get out of this situation as fast as they can.

The hurtful and cruel scenes witnessed yesterday throw into bold relief the mistakes made from the very start of the rollout. The failure to prioritise the elderly and to vaccinate them through their regular clinics while many healthy young people received the jab threw logic out of the system from day one. It will be beyond painful if the most vulnerable were to end up paying the highest price.

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The initiation of a Commission of Enquiry into the Government’s management of Covid-19, for which Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is so passionately clamouring, would be instructive if it presented an opportunity for the people of Trinidad and Tobago to hear from her just how she would have managed this health crisis had she been in charge.

The hush-hush arrival of a “small donation” of vials of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, flown in and apparently hand-delivered by courier to the Ministry of National Security, raises more questions than the number of vials involved.

I am repeatedly asked by various stakeholders whether Covid-19 vaccination could be made mandatory, so today I offer some initial thoughts.

This is not a clear-cut legal question and there are good arguments on both sides. There is no law, precedent or policy which governs the matter at present. Labour law, public health and human rights issues intermingle and ultimately, what is reasonable and in the majority interest would likely prevail.

Why would a person willingly give up their family, job and community to embark on an illegal, dangerous journey to another country?

In the case of the Venezuelans, it’s because they are generally running away from unbearable, life-threatening circumstances.

I hope the Government considers giving a booster shot of the Sinopharm vaccine if supplies are available to this country. Dr Amery Browne, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, said T&T will receive 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China this week.

Did the staff at the health centres know only 50 persons could have been be vaccinated per day? When they realised this, did they not think to register the names and telephone numbers of the other elderly citizens already in line from 5.30 a.m. who were sent home when the vaccinations ran out?