AS THE STATE continues to monitor the situation and to weigh its options with regard to mandatory covid19 vaccines, there is at least one specific area that calls for urgent intervention.
Recent statistics show the rate of vaccine take-up among staff and residents of elderly-care homes was just 40 per cent as of July.
Caroline Ruiz, the president of the TT Residential Care Association (TTRCA), has said this is an increase from 17 per cent earlier this year. But while trending in the right direction, it’s alarming that at this late stage fewer than half the people in these homes are immunised.
Aged-care homes and long-term care facilities all over the world were among the first casualties of this deadly virus.
Worse, outbreaks in such facilities not only endanger their residents, they endanger society at large, especially if their workers are unvaccinated.
Several factors have been blamed for the lagging take-up rate. Fears about side effects – some reasonable, many unreasonable – still linger. Staff are also reportedly engaging in “vaccine shopping.”
But it is appalling that unvaccinated workers are being allowed to go near the vulnerable residents of these homes.
TT has been relatively lucky not to have had any catastrophic outbreaks in elderly-care facilities, if we are to go by formal reports alone. But with all manner of highly-infectious variants looming, that luck is about to run out.
The State has a clear legal basis to intervene. These homes should be regarded as quasi-public spaces, if not public spaces.
While people choose to or are entrusted to these homes by their families, that contract cannot render them beyond the reach of public health regulation. These spaces have a unique, communal quality. This is enough reason to extend public health requirements to them.
But it is also pertinent that outbreaks in these facilities could potentially overwhelm the public health sector as a whole, since, if they contract the virus, the elderly are more likely to require intensive care.
At the very least, the State must mandate all workers in these homes – registered or not – to be vaccinated.
The idea that such workers can remain unvaccinated once subject to regular testing is something of a fallacy. By the time a positive result is picked up, it is likely to be too late.
Meanwhile, the US has recently mandated compulsory vaccination for all government workers. Closer to home, Antigua and Barbuda has done similar with regard to “all officers and auxiliary staff members” of the State.
Mandatory measures have a clear basis if we look at longstanding practices and legal precedent. For example, long before 2020, if people wanted to fly from TT to Jamaica, they had to be vaccinated against yellow fever. They were not given the choice.
Protecting the elderly could be a first step in coming to grips with this reality.