THE TOUCHDOWN, at last, of an initial batch of 33,600 covid19 vaccines from the global Covax facility on Tuesday now kicks the state’s inoculation programme into first gear.
The priority must be ensuring as clear and orderly a process as possible, mindful of the heavy demand for vaccines and the currently tenuous nature of the long-term supply.
The Ministry of Health hopes to receive a second shipment of 77,000 shots in May, but it is important to temper expectations with regard to the current batch.
Frontline health workers will continue to be vaccinated. Next in line are those 60 and over at public health clinics with non-communicable diseases, according to guidelines issued already.
After the elderly and those who are immunocompromised are vaccinated, there is a need to vaccinate members of the essential services. This includes the police, members of the Defence Force, and the large number of government workers who have had to report to work regularly during this pandemic.
It may well be the state’s calculation that in the long run, ordinary people not on the list of priority patients will simply have to wait until vaccines become commercially available. In this regard, state collaboration with the private sector, despite its murkiness, could prove an essential component, given the anaemic supply.
Meanwhile, we must assume the vaccines in hand will cover about 16,800 people; but 1,500 of them will be in Tobago.
This means there will be incredible demand for this initial batch, and there is danger that a mad rush of people could show up on the assumption shots are being given on a first-come-first-served basis.
Clarity in communication is essential and the ministry needs to focus on this, both in relation to the high-risk patients it wants to turn up, as well as the people who are not yet due for a shot, but who want them.
Estimates of how many people fall into what priority categories have been conspicuously absent from government updates, so there are huge questions over how far the first batch will stretch.
While the state has done some work focusing on “anti-vaxxers,” recent developments in the EU and Canada – where use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for some groups has been halted – might be trickier to address.
And though Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has boasted the country is now well on its way to achieving "herd immunity," what benchmark is the state applying? Mr Deyalsingh once said it should be 95-97 per cent of the population – meaning while we will soon be 16,800 down, we might still have about 1.3 million to go.