The New Today

Commentary

This is the time to show decisive leadership

Last week’s article highlighted the crushing defeat of the then mighty West Indies cricket team by India in the 1983 World Cup final and attempted to draw parallels with Grenada’s Covid-19 experience and cautioned what can happen if complacency and over confidence is allowed to take root.

After listening to press briefings, comments from senior health officials, and following the path of the pandemic, I feel the need to delve deeper into the concerns on complacency and how it can be a potential nightmare for the island going forward.

Grenada has become a victim of its own success. With low infection rates, very little hospitalisations and only one death to date, the island is considered a level one risk by the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC). A level one risk indicates low infection and limited spread of the Covid-19 virus throughout the population.

This success has resulted in large segments of the population taking the position there is no Covid-19 on the island. Others believe the virus is a hoax while some think the entire pandemic is a conspiracy.

Grenadians have not seen many deaths, hospitalisations and infections compared to some neighbouring countries such as Jamaica, St. Lucia and Barbados. They have not experienced the gushing pain of having to say final good bye to a love one by zoom or via a video call from a nurse.

They have not had to see a love one being taken into the ambulance knowing very well that could be the last time there might ever see them alive not being able to visit in the hospital. As such, they have taken Covid-19 for granted and that has contributed to the high level of vaccine hesitancy.

There is significant mistrust and apprehension with the health care system on the island because of the poor state of healthcare and dismissive manner in which government treats healthcare workers. Both citizens and health workers alike are weary of government’s pronouncements on the pandemic and now on the vaccines. This has also led to a tendency to hesitate before deciding on taking the vaccine.

Another segment of the population oppose the vaccine based on various religious grounds while others are influenced by Chinese and Russian trolls on the internet. These trolls are spreading misinformation on the four western vaccines, currently in use, to create mistrust in favour of vaccines from their countries.

Since the rollout of the vaccines there has been a significant surge in traditional anti- vaxxers content on the internet. These efforts have resulted in a high level of vaccine hesitancy leading to a slow rate of vaccinations on the island.

Mr. Prime Minister, the situation of complacency and vaccine hesitancy can be the ‘Achilles heel’ for Grenada at this stage of the battle against Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health and the Covid Response Team should have recognised the situation upfront and come up with a plan to address it. After listening to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) utterances that the vaccination campaign will utilise the existing infrastructure used for immunizing children, I became concern.

The problem of vaccine hesitancy among children is not significant as with adults. Moreover, a national adult vaccination campaign particularly for a novel virus with new vaccines under ’emergency use authorisation’ must be considered an extraordinary event. Look at the challenges with vaccinations in the United States and Europe.

Unlike Barbados, St. Lucia and now Jamaica there appear not to be sufficient planning in the local vaccine roll out effort and little consideration was given to the challenge of vaccine hesitancy. The local vaccination campaign collapsed early when there was little uptake of the vaccine by persons in the first priority group. The Permanent Secretary could not give a figure as to the percentage of the elderly persons and those in the first priority group who took the vaccine.

In Barbados, nearly seventy one percent of the elderly took the first shot of AstraZeneca. Over sixty three thousand Barbadians comprising twenty six thousand three hundred men and thirty seven thousand three hundred women took the first shot of the vaccine in Barbados.

According to recent data I have seen Grenada is low on the pecking order for a number of vaccine shots administered in the Caricom region.

Jamaica which recently started to vaccinate its citizens have surpassed twenty six thousand shots in arms while other countries including Dominica and St. Lucia are ahead of Grenada as well.

Mr. Prime Minister, blame for the current low rate of vaccination and high level of vaccine hesitancy on the island has to fall at the feet of the Ministry of Health and the Covid-19 response team which failed to anticipate the situation and plan properly for the vaccine roll out.

A vaccination initiative of that nature must have a comprehensive, intensive multi-layered public education campaign. However, the ministry failed to do so and the results of the paltry effort, at public education, is there to be seen.

The situation is now dangerous to say the least, in light of the impending fourth wave of the coronavirus in Europe and America. The only way to protect Grenada from this coming coronavirus offensive is to step up enforcement of wearing a mask in public, social distancing, regularly washing hands and vaccinating eighty percent of the population in the shortest possible time.

That being said, there is an urgent need to arrest this onset of complacency that has set in on the island. Too many persons have gone back to not wearing masks or social distancing when in public. Some bus drivers are back to either not wearing mask or doing so improperly.

Entertainment venues, restaurants and bars have begun to lapse in maintaining public health protocols. This is a recipe for disaster as this complacency coincides with the beginning of a fourth wave of the pandemic in Europe and America.

On top of the increase risk to the island’s already vulnerable population, due to complacency, large numbers of citizens are either hesitant or not taking the vaccine.

Related:  Don't allow Covid-19 to be the biggest disappointment of your political career

As the point was made last week, the more persons that are vaccinated and build up immunity to the virus, the less chances are available for the virus to grow, replicate and spread from person to person. It is therefore imperative for government to seek to step up vaccination rates on the island.

Mr. Prime Minister, Grenada is at a critical juncture in the battle against Covid-19 and if complacency and over confidence is allowed to take hold the island will go down in crushing defeat.

With the increasing dominance of the UK strain B 117 in the United States, and emergence of the New York strain B1.526 in the New York area, both mutations are fifty to seventy percent more infectious. Any future outbreak on the island would be more serious than the original virus since the largest source market for tourism is the US, where these variants are spreading fast.

Likewise in Europe, the B 117 UK strain is already dominant, particularly in England, Germany and France which supply the island with tourists. The South African and Brazilian strains are already in all of those countries and picking up pace as well. With the level of interconnectivity due to the island’s reliance on tourism and trade the population is vulnerable to any of those dreaded strains.

Mr. Prime Minister, the threat of these variants pose a clear and present danger to Grenada. Looking at the current situation in Jamaica, St. Lucia and Barbados this threat is greater than that of the original strain.

There is no doubt that once the hotels in the south of the island reopen and the volume of travellers increase the virus would move into the island with them. The danger with that scenario is not enough of the island’s population are being vaccinated to mitigate the risk. Moreover, complacency is once again on the rise and this will further compound the problem.

Grenada can’t cope with an intense much less community spread of these new variants. The island does not have sufficient hospital beds, PPEs, therapeutics, and personnel to deal with such a spread.

The only way to prevent such a situation is to maintain strong entry protocols, close loopholes complacent to the tourism lobby, step up enforcement of public health regulations and protocols, wearing mask in public, adhering to six feet social distancing, washing hands and vaccinating eighty percent of the population in the shortest possible time.

Mr. Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and his Covid-19 response team must come up with a plan to address vaccine hesitancy and improve the current rate of vaccinations on the island. The population must be made to understand that the economy can’t bounce back if the virus is not under control. Jobs and increased economic activity will not return if the virus is not kept at bay.

St. George’s University which comprises twenty five percent of the island’s economy will not resume in person teaching if the variants are allowed to spread on the island. I was informed that tourists making hotel bookings are enquiring whether hotel staff are fully vaccinated.

The population must be made aware that for the island to return to full normalcy eighty percent of the population must be vaccinated since the virus and its variants are not going away anytime soon.

An important point for those who are hesitant to get vaccinated, is that they are putting their children and other school aged family members at risk and preventing them from the full learning experience. Evidence from the US suggests the UK strain, in particular, is spreading faster among younger persons of school aged.

The B117 variant is killing more and more of the younger persons. Should this variant start to spread in Grenada it will kill the young who make up a significant segment of the population. The only way to prevent this from happening is to get vaccinated because as stated earlier, the more persons get vaccinated, the more immunity will be built in the population making it more difficult for the virus to spread.

Mr. Prime Minister, this period requires firm, decisive and astute leadership. Those who are entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the game plan against Covid-19 must be held to account when failures occurs. The stakes are too high for the vaccination rate to continue to stay low and the island sink further and further behind in the race between vaccines and variants.

There must be transparency in decision making and the population must be made to understand that there can’t be carnival if eighty percent of the population is not vaccinated, busmen can’t expect to have four persons in a row if they are not taking the vaccine and adhering to the protocols, hotel workers and healthcare workers who interact and provide service to people can’t expect to continue to do so if they are not vaccinated, and schools can’t return to full normalcy if the risk of a variant spread on the island is high due to low vaccination rates.

You must not make the same mistake as Clive Lloyd and the mighty West Indies team in 1983 and become overconfident and complacent. Please don’t take this virus for granted as the dreaded B117 was identified in the recent case of a Jamaican who entered the island recently. These dreaded variants are hovering on the horizon, waiting for an opportunity to enter the island.

Team Grenada must not give them an opportunity to cross our borders and spread. A failure to do so would result in a debilitating, crushing defeat as the West Indies team experienced on that ill-fated day in 1983.

Special Correspondent