Over the past few weeks, there has been a back and forth between the Government and the trade union movement over the issue of the Government’s announced safe zone policy for the public service.
Trade Unions representing workers have stood in defense of the members of the working class who are against vaccines, even though some of the very same leaders are vaccinated. It comes with the territory that as a trade union leader one must stand by workers even though they may not be doing what is in their own best interest. But it is also important that these trade union leaders understand what is driving the hesitancy and help educate their membership on the importance of being vaccinated in the face of this deadly virus.
But the onus is also on the Government to dialogue with not just these trade union organisations but also with the national population so that there is buy-in on the importance of vaccination to protect and save lives.
Why not a national dialogue on the issue, much like the conversations with the Prime Minister, but instead of having the same old health experts who people have grown wary of, why not capitalise instead on some known and trusted voices and who calls it like it is.
There are many medical professionals that the public trust for their information, unfortunately, they may not sit at the Ministry of Health’s twice weekly news conferences. The Prime Minister himself is no health expert and depends on the science of those employed at the Health Ministry. But their message now seems to be striking out rather than making hits.
One international expert with T&T roots whose voice on COVID-19 is widely accepted is Dr Farley Cleghorn, based in Washington, but who is keeping tabs on what is happening locally and offers his expert opinion when needed. There is also 30-year-old Dr Asher Williams, a vaccine researcher, who has been recruited by the UN’s Vaccine Confidence Project to assist in debunking some of the myths and false information about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. She has already produced a series of short videos debunking myths about vaccines which may prove to be useful.
There are many others with the expertise that can help get the message out in a way that may well encourage vaccination, but the country cannot continue along the path where the vaccines are just sitting there with no additional arms ready to accept them.
Vaccine hesitancy is real, that is a fact. What is also a fact is that before the end of this year, without doubt, Trinidad and Tobago would have lost over 2,800 citizens to the virus.
Trying to scare people with hospital statistics or deaths is no longer working. There must be a concerted effort made to educate the public on the importance of vaccines and the benefits that can be accrued utilising every means available, including dialogue with unions and other social interest groups. The spiral of deaths cannot be allowed to continue unabated. Government must now look at other options to build public trust and confidence and reduce vaccine hesitancy.