After the deadliest month on record for COVID-19 in this country, with 13,085 cases and 326 deaths recorded in May, it is with some urgency that T&T ramps up the vaccination phase in the fight against the pandemic.
The effort to achieve herd immunity is still in the preliminary stages as only a small percentage of citizen have so far received at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19.
The announcement from the Biden Administration yesterday on how the United States will share 80 million doses from its surplus vaccine stock increases prospects of an adequate supply to cover most of our adult population.
This could be the game-changer for T&T which is in line to get some of the approximately six million doses allocated to South and Central America and the countries of Caricom.
Hopefully, this will end the supply shortfalls that have been hampering this country’s vaccination programme.
However, a steady supply of doses isn’t the only obstacle in T&T’s quest for herd immunity. While vaccine hesitancy has not been a big problem so far, public health officials will still need to roll out a programme of awareness along with the administering of first and second jabs in the coming weeks.
Misinformation has been the biggest hindrance at every stage of the battle against COVID-19, so there should be much more of an effort to debunk the anti-vaccine sentiments that are being shared at every opportunity by social media and word of mouth.
Although vaccines have long been established as one of the most successful public health interventions in history, opposition to vaccination has existed as long as there have been vaccines.
More than two decades after a paper that linked the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine to autism was debunked, that falsehood continues to be promoted by anti-vaxxers.
There is a global anti-vax movement comprising people wary of government control, or distrusting the medical establishment and its products, who believe false claims about vaccines. Since the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines, they have been actively stoking unfounded fears of harm with all the misinformation they share.
The emotions and deep-rooted beliefs—whether philosophical, political, or spiritual—that underlie vaccine opposition have undermined efforts to end the pandemic in many parts of the world, so there must be a solid public health strategy here to guard against that possibility.
A public education programme, disseminated across a variety of platforms to ensure the widest community engagement, is needed to spread the message that getting the vaccine is a powerful step in ending the pandemic.
The message that needs to be heard consistently across the country is that getting a vaccination will help us move closer to normal life and increases the prospects for reopening T&T’s borders sooner rather than later and the return of Carnival celebrations in 2022.
On the other hand, refusing the vaccine, or waiting too long to be vaccinated, allows COVID-19 to continue spreading and mutating into deadlier and more infectious forms.
Government and public health officials have maintained, since the first case of COVID-19 in T&T some 14 months ago, that their decisions would be based on the science.
They must now more actively use those scientific facts to drive away vaccine fear and misinformation.