Notably absent from yesterday’s announcement of vaccine donations from India and China was any reference to a delivery date or timeline. Until that is known the uncertainty bedevilling the country will continue, especially given current indications of a new surge in infections with yesterday’s confirmation of 38 new Covid-19 cases being the highest since December 23.
In the case of both India and China, vaccine exports are now complicated by the decision to prioritise the immunisation of their own populations. Yesterday, India announced a temporary ban on vaccine exports, in response to a spike in new infections at home. The ban is expected to affect supplies from India until the end of April, including the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility on which 190 countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, are depending for 20 per cent of their vaccine needs. While China has not imposed a ban, it too has recently ramped up its effort to vaccinate 40 per cent of its population of 1.4 billion.
The bigger challenge faced in accessing Sinopharm’s BBIBP-CorV vaccine is the fact that the company is yet to publish detailed results of its Phase 3 trials, which are required for WHO approval. The countries that have so far accepted the Sinopharm vaccine have elected not to wait for WHO approval. In this region, only Guyana and Venezuela have been administering Sinopharm’s vaccines to their people after receiving 20,000 and 500,000 doses of BBIBP-CorV, respectively.
While many are anxious to have the vaccine, the delay can be made to work to our advantage if productively used. By now the Government should be aware that vaccine confidence among the public is on a roller-coaster due to the daily barrage of sometimes conflicting vaccine information. The reference here is to credible information, not the misinformation and hoaxes peddled on some social media sites. The environment of confusion should indicate to the Government the need to ensure that its vaccine delivery programme is built on reliable information grounded in the findings of scientific surveys regarding public attitudes to the vaccine, in general, and to specific brands. Scientific surveys should be an ongoing exercise since vaccine hesitancy is a major threat to any plan to lead the country towards herd immunity within the shortest possible time.
At this point, the Ministry of Health should be able to say what level of confidence the public has in the vaccines on offer. Where public confidence needs to be shored up, it should already be doing so. This newspaper is simply staggered by the absence of a clear and effective communication strategy for helping the public to make sense of the information overload, both good and bad, coming at them from every corner of the world.
As T&T awaits the vaccine, the priority must be to keep our guards up. We have too much to lose by surrendering our vigilance. We risk aborting the limited reopening of schools, sending restaurants back to takeaway and cutting back on the size of gatherings in church, cinemas and on the playing field. Although difficult, let us summon our reserves of patience to sit tight and stay safe.