THE CALL by Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram for the Government to provide covid19 vaccines to the country’s farmers, fishermen and market vendors throws into sharp relief the emerging divide between those who have been lucky enough to have been vaccinated and those who have not.
It highlights a major deficiency of the State’s vaccination programme: it has not been successful in getting available doses to those who need it most.
The early phase of the vaccination programme covered frontline medical workers. Politicians, who have been squabbling over who took which jab or not, were afforded special access, whatever their individual dispositions, unlike the general public.
Vaccination of the population truly began with calls for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions to come forward.
Yet even before the pool of such people was exhausted, many young, healthy people began posting brazenly on social media about getting jabbed. Informally, it was said vaccine hesitancy played a role in this: that many elderly people had cancelled or avoided appointments after unsubstantiated fears about potentially fatal side-effects.
It made sense to give out stock to people who want it. Deaths, at that stage, were not as high as they later became, so many may not have viewed the issue with appropriate urgency.
But the long lines that occurred this month when the Ministry of Health temporarily removed its appointment system told a different story. It proved the State’s systems were simply ineffective when it came to reaching the people who needed the jabs most.
And what is so disconcerting about the furore surrounding the US Pfizer shipment is the perception that in this country it is all about what connections you have, not who you are.
The phenomenon of “who you know” is a huge part of local culture. Instead of sticking to orderly systems and processes that would guarantee fairness, we prefer to pick up the phone and call a friend or contact or call in a favour.
This is sometimes a necessity. Often, people have no choice but to take what they can get because the system is not working.
But it is also a vicious cycle. Resorting to such informal, hush-hush arrangements actually encourages systems to remain dysfunctional.
The suggestion that fishermen, farmers and market vendors be facilitated is not outlandish or unreasonable. In fact, it can be considered a very prudent measure, especially taking into account collaboration already going on with supermarket chains, the construction and private-security sector and others.
But whatever the systems and strategies being used by the Government, openness and orderliness are essential to avoid not only accusations of favouritism but also desperation, a sense of injustice – right or wrong – and possible superspreader events as people rush for vaccination for fear of being overlooked altogether.