Yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago reached another grim milestone in the COVID-19 battle it did not want to attain — 1,000 deaths. Dr Dhiyan Mahabir and prison officer Nixon Lokai, who were on the frontlines in their various sectors of work, were the lives that took the toll to the unfortunate mark.

Over the past year and a half in the fight to save lives and livelihoods from the ravages of the disease, there would have been many challenges which the frontline healthcare workers had to overcome. As medical professionals, however, there is no doubt they would have been traumatised by the suffering of their patients and unfortunate loss of lives.

For his part, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday said he was was satisfied with how Government has responded to the pandemic.

The jury, of course, is still out on this, given that we have fared significantly worse in this second wave of the virus than we did in the first, even with the deadly Delta variant still to reach our shores.

On the positive side, for the most part the parralell health system set up to deal with COVID patients has not been overwhelmed as has been seen in other countries.

But on the other side, the Government’s apparent less than vigorous approach to acquiring vaccines early on, perhaps in the face of success with fighting it in last year’s first wave, may have ultimately cost the country an opportunity to be at a different stage now.

With more than one forced national lockdown and an ongoing State of Emergency as a result of raging cases, it is perhaps our late attempt to acquire the vaccines needed to inoculate the population which has led to the current undesirable situation within the economy.

In that regard, the recent arrival of 800,000 Sinopharm vaccines and the promise of more ahead, including the Pfizer jab intended for use on the secondary school popualtion, offers the chance to significantly speed up the inoculation process. Still, herd immunity, set by Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram at 900,000 people fully vaccinated, is well off at this stage. As of yesterday, only 174,992 people had been fully vaccinated and another 262,976 had received a first dose.

A light on the horizon, however, has been the Health Ministry’s decision to operationalise regional health centres as vaccination sites, fully incorporate the private sector in the mass vaccination drive and implement drive-through sites to expedite the process.

However, the onus remains on the public to go out and access the vaccines. Indeed, with the process still a voluntary one, the herd immunity target may never be realised, leaving many citizens still exposed to the disease. Scientific evidence has shown that taking the jab, while not a cure, significantly improves one’s chances of fighting off severe attacks and even death. This media house thus believes that the benefits of taking vaccines far outweigh the negatives. All that if left then, is the public’s cooperation in accessing the vaccines and adhering to the health protocols thereafter to ensure COVID is kept at bay.