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How many more have to die before vaccine mandates are considered

The health situation in Grenada is getting worst by the day with no end in sight as the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths continue to rise.

The current outbreak is just over three weeks and already the island has the second largest Covid death toll in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) behind St. Lucia.

The all-important positivity rate continues to rise dramatically as more and more persons test positive for Covid-19. The question is – why after appearing to be doing so well the island is suddenly plunged into this crisis?

At the onset of the pandemic when everyone else begun to shut down it was easy for the island to follow suit. As countries relaxed restrictions and open up, the emphasis was on border control to prevent the virus from getting into the country.

Initially, strict entry protocols were instituted as part of border control measures. However, overtime some countries relaxed these measures as conditions changed. For Caribbean countries, heavily dependent on tourism like Grenada, it was always going to be a high risk of virus spread as borders gradually opened up.

A respiratory virus is transmitted as persons move about during a pandemic. In recognition of this fact most of these islands went ahead and set up parallel health systems in event of a virus outbreak.

St. Lucia refurbished a chest hospital with a capacity of one hundred and twenty beds, Barbados took an abandoned building complex at Harrison Point and repaired it into a modern isolation and treatment facility housing over one hundred and fifty Covid patients, likewise Dominica transformed the former campus of Ross University into a hospital for Covid patients and established isolation centers across the island to accommodate infected and asymptomatic individuals thereby preventing them from going back into their households and infecting family members.

In spite of repeated calls by many individuals for our authorities to set up a proper parallel health system to handle Covid patients in the event of an outbreak, the Government of Grenada did very little beyond the ten additional beds added with the use of a building, initially refurbished to treat kidney patients next to the General Hospital.

While other islands went ahead and ramped up their disease surveillance capacity by introducing mass testing using Rapid, PCR and anti-bodies testing, authorities in Grenada failed to go beyond testing at ports of entry and high risk frontline workers.

They appeared to go all in with vaccination hoping the population would readily accept the shot. The CMO and his team underestimated the strength of anti-vaxxer propaganda on the internet and the level of vaccine hesitancy within the population.

This was further exacerbated by a weak, ineffective management structure that was set up to manage the vaccination drive. It is no wonder why the vaccine uptake is at the low level it is.

On top of these missteps and failures, political patronage, double standards in enforcement of protocols and ‘eat ah food’ culture precipitated the problem even further leading to the current dire health crisis on the island.

With that being said, it is amazing the level of contempt towards and laying of blame on the Grenadian people by those in authority. The “I told you so attitude” constantly displayed would suggest government had this comprehensive plan that is being frustrated by the people.

However, the reality is there is no plan and that is why the country is in this situation at the moment. With that being said, it is amazing that those who were entrusted with the task of leading the fight against Covid-19 would now display this, “I told you so and you didn’t listen attitude”.

The question must be asked – who failed to set up a parallel health system to deal with a virus outbreak and community spread on the island?

The Minister and his CMO must have attended many virtual meetings with regional counterparts and would have learnt of the infrastructure and systems for testing surveillance, isolation and treatment neighbouring islands had in place. Why what Dominica and St. Lucia did were not done in Grenada?

Many suggestions were put forward and calls made for a dedicated treatment facility and isolation centers to be set up to isolate and treat patients. The then Opposition Leader made a direct plea to government through the Prime Minister to dedicate the island’s second hospital as the main Covid treatment facility.

Many calls were made to identify and prepare isolation centers where persons who tested positive for Covid-19 can be housed. It was pointed out early to public health officials based on the dominant family structure and household living arrangement on the island that allowing persons to isolate at home would lead to household cluster spread.

Those calls fell on deaf ears and today the two arrogant, piss tail ignoramuses are running around like headless chickens while scores of Grenadians are dying.

This is not about any vendetta with anyone, however when policymakers entrusted with the task of serving the public make bad decisions that cost lives they must be called to account, particularly if there is a continuous comedy of errors.

For instance, in the recent post-Cabinet press briefing the triumphalist attitude begun to be displayed again with a slight drop in the positivity rate. This exulted narrative created a sense of false comfort that helped drove the high level of complacency among the population in the past and will do so again if this narrative is not checked.

We are not beginning to come out of the woods just yet. The drop in positivity rate is encouraging and may suggest we have seen a path with, stepped up adherence to protocols, mass testing, disease surveillance and vaccinations, however how the path is navigated would determine if and how fast we get out of the woods.

This points to the need to get the messaging right. Giving out the raw data in a press briefing is not messaging. There is an urgent need for a Communications specialist to package the information in a manner that audiences could understand and appreciate.

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The Minister on many occasions acknowledged he and the CMO may not be good messengers, however his ministry is yet to hire a Communications professional to prepare effective messaging for the Covid-19 campaign.

The manner in which the data is presented at the press briefings suggest the Meta data generated by increased surveillance, testing and treatment is not being properly mined to identify negative trends and weaknesses that are showing up in this current wave. Yet he doesn’t want to be called out when failures occur, particularly, when innocent people are dying.

When the data for deaths across the region is analysed, Grenada has one of the fastest Covid death rates among the islands.

It took many months for St. Lucia’s death toll to reach fifty, in Grenada it took slightly over three weeks to reach that milestone. This is suggestive of the crumbling health infrastructure, quality of care at the hospitals, and the large number of persons that were told to isolate at home then later developed severe symptoms and died.

Who is to be blamed for that? The question is who must account for this? Do we have to wait until the end of this calamity to call out failures? How many more persons have to die before a proper plan is put in place to effectively fight this scourge?

A two day drop in infection numbers though hopeful is a long way from triumph if a proper plan to fight Covid-19 is not put in place. After the general elections campaign, last August in Trinidad, there was a big outbreak of Covid and the island with its many hospitals dedicated to treating patients, isolation centers and step down facilities struggled hard to lower the curve, however there have been subsequent outbreaks that caused infections to rise.

The only way out of this crisis is vaccination and government must urgently come up with a plan on how to get to herd immunity in the shortest possible time. No amount of wishful thinking on how citizens of North American and European countries are back to attending sporting events will cut it.

These countries with robust health systems fought hard to lower the curve, implemented effective vaccination campaigns with targeted vaccine mandates to get to where they are now. The same must be done in Grenada.

To allow the virus to run unchecked through the population would result in too much deaths and despair. For a population with a low death threshold this would be unbearable for the citizens since the vaccine uptake is still not where it should be at this time.

At the present rate it would take close to a year to achieve herd immunity. By that time the economy would collapse under successive waves of the virus. The best option available at this time is vaccine mandates.

Very soon the island could have close to thirty percent fully vaccinated persons, the current virus spread could create natural immunity for another thirty percent of the population, targeted vaccine mandates would possible allow the island to achieve over eighty percent herd immunity before December in time for the winter tourist season and return of the remaining batch of St. George’s University students scheduled for January.

It would also allow for normalisation of ‘in person teaching’ in local schools. Rather than talk all this gibberish in the post-Cabinet press briefing what you need to do is present data to the Cabinet of Ministers showing them how long it will take the island to achieve herd immunity by allowing the virus to spread, unchecked, through the population, the cost in terms of deaths, hospitalisations, economic, and psychosocial dislocation as against implementation of limited vaccine mandates, its cost and benefits as well.

For no amount of old talk about rum shop does sell food, personal responsibility and change in community habits would not cut it at this time. The genie is out of the bottle and targeted vaccine mandates are the only way to put it back in.

President Joe Biden after observing the lengthy plateau of the figures for fully vaccinated persons in the United States at fifty two percent, took the difficult yet prudent decision to institute vaccine mandates for certain sectors of the economy.

He as well as his Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellin understood the damage to the US economy the longer it takes to reach herd immunity.

As long as you and your minions continue to act like ignoramuses and continue to spin these silly narratives and avoiding the elephant in the room you will be called out. As long as you and your minions continue to preside over a failed testing and treatment system that enabled the deaths of over seventy innocent citizens you will be called out.

As long as you and your minions fail to set up isolation and quarantine centers to prevent infected persons from returning home and causing household cluster spread, you will be called out. As long as the Chairman of Cabinet continues to impose his feelings on vaccine mandates and avoid the elephant in the room because of perceived political fallout, he will be called to account as well.

For it is politically prudent to get the country to herd immunity as soon as possible to stop further economic decline rather than depend on personal responsibility and change in community habits that will only leave the island’s population vulnerable to the next potentially more contagious and deadly variant on top of Delta currently marauding throughout the length and breadth of the tri-island state cutting down innocent souls.

It is time for business leaders to form a Committee of Twenty Two to bring pressure on the leader to put aside his feelings on vaccine mandate and change course as was done with Gairy during the 1973 crisis. These business leaders must know their very economic survival depends on the island achieving herd immunity through vaccine mandates in the shortest possible time.

Special Correspondent