The news has been all positive this week on the progress towards a Covid-19 vaccine. It has been a race against time since scientists all over the world took on the challenge. It has been hard to miss the Caribbean’s absence from the global quest, although we may in time learn that some of our people have been involved in initiatives elsewhere.
For now, we join the rest of the world in pinning our hopes that the glowing reports from Pfizer and Moderna will be carried through to the point of vaccine production and distribution, and that there will be no hiccups or disappointment along the way.
It is, however, important that we not run ahead of the facts and get confused about exactly where we in Trinidad and Tobago are in relation to actually receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
Earlier this week, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organisation, through which T&T expects to access the Moderna vaccine, gave an indication of the time-frame when he said, “We are looking at at least the first half of next year as being a period of very, very limited doses. Supplies are going to be limited. There are bilateral deals that companies have done. So many of the doses have already been booked by some countries.”
Barring some unforeseen delay, therefore, the vaccine may not be generally available to the T&T population for another six to eight months or more, which for us could be toughest part of the pandemic.
The challenge for now is to not let down our guard in giving in to complacency and mask fatigue. Until the vaccine is actually administered, the attitude must be to avoid infection and to stay healthy and alive.
The Ministry of Health must begin to double down on its public communications which, quite frankly, have been disappointing. A lot of groundwork must now be covered in advance to build public confidence in the vaccine. This will not happen through media announcements, but through strategically delivered information targeted at different categories of individuals who are doubtful or intend to reject the vaccine and their reasons for doing so.
Another challenge will be to gain public trust in the distribution process to avoid the programme being flailed by accusations of privileged access, favouritism and discrimination. One would have to be a complete stranger to T&T to not anticipate this particular problem. The onus will be on the Government to lay out a transparent process against which its actions can be publicly judged to be fair.
Based on this week’s statements by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, it would appear that the Government’s planning for receiving, storing and administering a vaccine are well in hand. We would assume that there is back-up power at every stage of the process.
T&T is not a newcomer to vaccination programmes although it has been pointed out that most programmes are built for children and therefore require some modification. No doubt these will be worked out in time. Until then, keep sanitising, social-distancing and masking.