The New Today

Commentary

Government must not drop the ball on vaccination program for Covid-19

Now that it appears Grenada will receive, from PAHO, around forty five thousand doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, government should have a plan, already, and must be in a position to implement it as effectively as possible. Announcing the groups of persons that would be prioritised for vaccinations using the first batch of vaccines is not a plan.

Government must first identify a strategy that would inform the vaccination effort. Is the objective to achieve herd immunity within the shortest space of time by vaccinating at least eighty percent of the population by the summer or wait on the timeframe set by PAHO to deliver three batches of the vaccine from Covax in a twelve month period first in March, then around August, and the final delivery at yearend?

Based on reports from scientists that are trying to deepen their understanding of the origins of recent virus mutations, if a significant portion of the population is not vaccinated in short order, countries will experience explosive outbreaks of the new variants.

Already, scientists are finding evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be as effective against the South African variant and the UK one is forty to forty five percent more transmissible. Both variants may have already begun to mutate into even more dangerous strains. Government doesn’t have the luxury of time and must act as soon as possible to get the island’s population vaccinated as soon as possible.

In light of the above, a strategy to get eighty percent of the population vaccinated in the shortest possible time is the best option. Since the more people vaccinated within the population the less likely the virus would spread.

Government must not wait on Covax but seek to purchase additional doses of the vaccine working in collaboration with regional governments, stakeholders including St. George’s University (SGU) and tapping other multilateral initiatives for gaining access to vaccines to be able to have sufficient doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to vaccinate the entire population.

Government should have already stocked up on syringes, cotton swabs, plasters, refrigerated storage and other items necessary to get the vaccines in people’s arms. Vaccination centres should be identified and readied before the vaccine campaign gets going. Important for successful implementation of any vaccination effort must be a well thought out and articulated public education campaign, to build awareness and counter adverse information spread on the internet among the local population.

In addition to relying on existing infrastructure used to vaccinate children, Ministry of Health officials should draw upon the experience of retired public health nurses who were involved with the PAHO/WHO Immunisation campaign in Grenada in the mid-1970’s where the entire population was immunised against measles, mumps and rubella.

Recently retired nurses could be used to complement the existing nursing staff in carrying out the vaccinations. Government can’t afford to be found wanting on this effort as the stakes are much too high for the country.

Government has already failed to properly mitigate against the negative economic fallout caused by the pandemic by gambling on short term tourism.

The policy decision was always going to fail because of its high risk to local population, travellers and ensuing travel restrictions placed on international travel.

The government having a myopic attitude towards tourism was not prudent enough to see beyond the superficial information presented by the tourism lobby.

They were not astute to see how five thousand SGU students and a thousand long stay ‘staycation’ tourists could have kept the economy going, lessening the negative impact from the pandemic. Once students and long stay tourists did the second PCR test and completed quarantine the risk to the local population would have reduced considerably.

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The spending power of students and staycationers would have been much more than the paltry twenty and thirty tourists, most of them on package deals, hotels that are still open are now receiving.

The local economy would have benefitted in a big way, government received much needed revenues and commercial banks see activity on a large portion of their dormant loan portfolio.

Restaurants, taxi drivers, rental cars, apartment rentals, supermarkets and other businesses in the south of the islands would not have to be struggling now because they will be doing good business.

The economic downturn caused by the pandemic would be deeper and more protracted now the gamble with short-term tourism has failed. The only way to salvage the economy from further ruin is to implement an efficient vaccination program covering over seventy percent of the population.

This would curb spread of the virus and prevent persons from getting really ill and dying. Society would be able to return to some level of normality laying the foundation for economic recovery. The stakes are high as a result and government can’t afford to fail this time.

Thousands of workers laid off since last year are hoping for the return of normalcy that would help to revive the island’s ailing economy and put people back to work.

Hundreds of students have already fell through the cracks. Teachers are reporting high numbers of students have not signed in to zoom sessions or use the devices given to them by Ministry of Education.

Many others don’t have access to internet or electricity forcing them to go by neighbours and friends to be able to complete assignments putting them at risks for sexual abuse. Some students have given up all together and couldn’t be bothered with school anymore. If full ‘in class teaching’ does not return, soon, many more students will get lost in the system and eventually drop out of school.

If the economy continues on its current trajectory many small businesses and other commercial operations would fold increasing unemployment and causing further hardship on the population. Though the vaccine is not a panacea for the virus, the stakes are too high for the vaccination campaign to falter.

Government must get it right this time for the sake of unemployed workers, students, small business operators and indeed the entire population that are fearful of this dreaded virus. Government must not allow nepotism and partisan political interest to infiltrate the vaccination process.

Civil society organisations should monitor the program and report any instance of politicisation to the WHO. For the country to return to normal all citizens who wish to be vaccinated must receive the vaccine as soon as possible.

Family and political friends of politicians must not be given preference over citizens in the priority categories for vaccination in the first batch, the process must be as non-political as possible if the country is to benefit from the immunisation campaign. Government must not drop the ball on this one as the stakes are too high.

Special Correspondent