WITH five days to go before it starts rolling out the first stage of the national Covid-19 vaccination programme, the Government should prioritise public information, especially in light of ongoing developments involving the vaccine to be administered.
Tuesday night’s arrival of the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines from the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility should be the start of a busy vaccination drive.
If all goes as planned, the public should not have to wait too long for the remaining 70,000 doses from COVAX.
By then, efforts to get the vaccine from the African Union and other countries should begin to bear fruit.
Since it is only a matter of time before major front-runners such as the United States, Canada and the UK get to herd immunity, the world could soon be awash with vaccines, as those who had over-purchased donate their excess supplies to vaccine-starved countries like ours.
As is already happening, the emergency approval of all Covid-19 vaccines without the usual painstaking trials to identify every possible side effect has resulted in several becoming evident on the go, as it were, ranging from concerning to scaremongering.
One impact of this is to sow doubt, even among people who are pro-vaccine.
This places an extra burden of responsibility on the Government to convince the public of the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine generally and each individual brand, specifically.
On Tuesday, for example, the government of Germany suspended routine use of the AstraZeneca vaccine among people under 60 years of age following reports of rare blood clots in the brains of 31 people who had received the first dose.
In that country, people under 60 will only be given AstraZeneca if they belong to a high-risk category for serious illness from Covid-19 and agree to take it knowing the small risk of a serious side effect.
While this decision runs counter to the position of the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Association, it nonetheless threw another cloud of doubt over a vaccine that had already been the subject of concern.
Even if the Government were to dismiss this latest development as another episode in the running vaccine war between some European countries and the UK, it must recognise its possible impact on public confidence in the vaccine that it is about to deploy and move swiftly to respond as honestly and openly as it can, and not allow doubt to control the narrative.
At last Saturday’s Covid-19 news conference, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh responded to demands for a vaccine communication plan, including from this newspaper, saying the ministry could not produce one without having actual delivery dates.
He misses the point.
One does not need dates to prep the population by anticipating their questions well in advance of dates.
This is the leaden thinking that had the Government waiting for WHO approval of AstraZeneca before attempting to source it. Predictably, T&T was pipped by the more proactive governments of Barbados and Dominica which lined up AstraZeneca gifts from India well before WHO approval, and timed their delivery as approval came.
Good things can happen when preparation meets opportunity.