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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday brought a mixture of good news and a stark dosage of reality at the weekly COVID-19 media briefing. On the positive side, the Prime Minister confirmed the return of retail sector activity tomorrow but added the restart of the CEPEP and URP programmes, with the personal care sector, including salons, nail techs, hairdressers and barbers, to follow within a week.

This, of course, was positive news to the businesses who have been struggling to keep their doors open and to citizens who have lost their livelihoods as a result of the various shutdown measures implemented to control the deadly virus in the past 18 months. Then there is also the loss of 1,173 people, which takes its own toll physically and emotionally.

On the other side, the Prime Minister made yet another appeal for citizens to access the vaccines. As of last week, T&T had acquired over 1.6 million doses by way of donations and purchases. The public is now spoiled for choice with the option of AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Sinopharm vaccines, with Johnson and Johnson jabs on the way soon.

The Prime Minister expressed his alarm at the level of vaccine hesitancy within the society. Of particular concern were the inoculation levels recorded within the Defence Force at 35 per cent, 43 per cent in the T&T Police Service and 20 per cent of inmates and 35 per cent of officers within the prison system. These figures are indeed startling given that these law enforcement officers interact with scores of citizens on a daily basis. Even the nurses were at an alarming 50 per cent despite being on the frontlines.

Dr Rowley also appealed to the parents and guardians of secondary school students who are being targeted for mass vaccinations this week, as the Government targets reopening schools from September. This appeal came alongside news that there has been an increase in infections among children. The Prime Minister pledged to protect the country’s children, noting the only relevant arguments to be made now are those speaking to accessing vaccines, since they remain the only weapons globally available to fight the virus. Noting that vaccinations have been part of the education system for decades, Dr Rowley urged parents/guardians to make the right choice.

The stark reality is also this: if the economy is reopening and people are returning to work, who will be supervising those same students at home if they are unable to return to face-to-face schooling in September. Would you, the public, feel safe leaving those children in the care of unvaccinated caretakers or even family members for that matter? As has been noted, the purpose of reaching herd immunity is to ensure that those who can access the vaccines do so so that those who legitimately cannot take it may also be protected, since the disease will be less virulent and the level of contraction within the population may be significantly reduced.

The Delta variant is here and the scientific data points to vaccines as our only hope of ensuring we minimise COVID’s effects should we contract it, including the unfortunate outcome of death. This is why this newspaper joins the Prime Minister in urging that citizens access the vaccines to save lives and the economy.