Vaccine ‘clusterwomble’

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

THE GOVERNMENT failed to appreciate that the population has grown increasingly anxious about immunisation against covid19. This is only natural as news of vaccinations in other Caribbean countries raises questions about where we are with ours. Regrettably, bubbling anxieties over this interminable covid19 limbo have been processed by this administration all wrong.

In the Prime Minister's “conversations” gambit, which was little more than a thinly disguised political meeting, members of the public got a peek inside a clearly chaotic vaccine acquisition process. Additionally, Dr Rowley's trademark choleric demeanour, sideswiping supposed allies in this challenging vaccine quest, did the nation no favours.

Regardless of the Government's desperate attempts at keeping up diplomatic appearances and fumbling damage control, when the smoke cleared, left behind was an impenetrable fog of confusion.

Sure, Amery Browne bumped elbows with the Indian high commissioner for the cameras in a theatrical display of diplomatic detente. In the Senate, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, casting a spell to further cement the illusion, praised the Prime Minister for his role in “accessing vaccines” from the Indian government.

Jedi mind tricks are only effective on those susceptible to suggestion. For anyone else, Deyalsingh's back-patting probably triggered spasms of bowel-loosening peals of laughter. After all, not that long ago Dr Rowley publicly heaped opprobrium on Indian High Commissioner Arun Kumar Sahu. I suppose when you're making a recklessly sharp u-turn in a compressed timeframe, the execution won't look pretty.

The Health Minister, like his Cabinet colleague Amery Browne, has his own clean-up mission to contend with after the PM's public utterances. It was his job to let principals of an “unnamed” conglomerate know their recollection of conversations on vaccines was off; we didn't call you, you called us. The minister claimed the last word on the subject and announced an ill-defined public sector partnership wrenched from the maw of contention. All is right with the world; well, not exactly.

A news release from the mystery company raised troubling questions about the Government's ability to pay for vaccines. Minister Deyalsingh rushed to douse those suggestions with an assurance that the Government has the money. It was private-sector interests who approached the State wanting to put their own cash into the pot.

The Minister of Finance, however, is quoted as having said in the Senate last week the Government "would do all it could to raise the money to pay for vaccines, once available." I don't pray often. Perhaps not as regularly as I should. On this occasion, however, I got on my knees in supplication, praying the minister was misquoted by the dastardly media. At this stage of the hockey match, the Government shouldn't be in the process of trying to raise funds for anything.

During the course of this pandemic, Minister Imbert has both borrowed and drawn down from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund eye-watering billions. Much of this was done in the name of covering expenses incurred by this insidious disease. Allocations for immunisation should already have been made.

In fairness to Minister Imbert, he went on to clarify in the Senate that the Government has indeed allocated funding for the vaccines. Still, Wade Mark, who was questioning the minister, missed an opportunity to ask how much has been set aside and how much to date has been spent. Considering that we've been waiting to get word on the arrival of at least one batch of vaccines from Covax, the country should be told how much money has already been paid and how much more is soon to be laid out.

For all the confusion surrounding the State's acquisition protocols, it's a welcome relief to hear of the arrival of just over 30,000 vaccines from the Covax facility on Wednesday. It's a good start. As a perplexing epilogue to the vaccine debacle, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds says of the Government's handling of the covid19 crisis there is nothing he would have recommended doing differently. That certainly offers a window into the mindset of this administration.
Every challenging situation demands constant retrospective analysis. Those charged with the responsibility to manage this unprecedented affair should be vigorously interrogating their actions: What could have been done differently? What can we improve on?

Had the Government come straight and admitted errors were made in the vaccine acquisition process, public reactions over the past week might have been different. There is strength of character in acceptance of fallibility, for therein lies the path to correction. This is what is required of any responsible government.


"Vaccine ‘clusterwomble’"

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