Distressing scenes of hundreds of people, many of them elderly and infirm, lined up outside health centres for the second straight day yesterday, is proof of the abysmal failure of the walk-in vaccination system just introduced by the Ministry of Health.
The arrangement has spawned mostly chaos and confusion and it did not help that yesterday, to add insult to the injury already inflicted on these senior citizens the day before, there was a decision to administer only a limited number of vaccines at each health centre.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, who was upfront and early with his mea culpas on the first day of the vaccine fiasco, was not as forthcoming on day two about the failure of the alphabet system. He opted out of an interview on Guardian Media’s CNC3 late yesterday, passing on an opportunity to explain this latest vaccination failure.
But Mr Deyalsingh will have to own up to the fact that there have been a host of challenges with this most critical element of the vaccination programme. Accessing appointments, whether by telephone and online, resulted in frustration and futility for most. Walk-ins have been even more disastrous.
However, the chaos of the past two days could have been avoided by looking beyond the public sector. Throughout this public health crisis, which has brought the health system close to breaking point, more use could have been made of the resources and expertise available in the private sector.
If there is a key takeaway from this pandemic for policy and decision-makers, it is that more of an effort must be made to engage with businesses and civil society. Government and the corporate sector need to adapt to a new way of working together that actively seeks out and leverages private initiatives for public benefit.
The COVID-19 vaccination programme presents that opportunity.
The unprecedented partnerships between government agencies and pharmaceutical companies to develop COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics, have shown to the world what is possible through public-private partnerships.
To get past this week’s vaccination fiasco, it is important to harness the considerable capabilities, expertise and knowledge that reside across the private sector to help meet the vaccine campaign’s priorities.
There is significant manpower, huge distribution warehouses and other facilities that can be offered for data storage, appointment scheduling, delivery of supplies to clinics and hospitals, information technology and communications capabilities.
Urgently needed, not only in response to the issues of the last few days, but because our overall COVID response needs to be fine-tuned, is a public-private partnership that embraces the ‘all hands-on deck’ approach.
There is nothing new anywhere in the world about companies and government agencies working together to tackle national challenges and problems, so it is strange that more than a year into the pandemic, there have not been more joining of forces to fight COVID-19.
The Vaccinate to Operate initiative, which has targeted workers in various productive sectors for vaccinations, has been successful in just a few days. That success should now be replicated across all other phases of the national vaccination programme.