What a difference a year makes.
At this time in 2020 no vaccines had been approved but this country, simply by adhering to the public health protocols, had emerged relatively unscathed from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the third wave now upon us, with the numbers climbing rapidly—5,558 active cases and 276 deaths as of yesterday—the end to the pandemic depends on the delivery of vaccines which are still not available in the quantities needed for herd immunity.
That is because the acquisition of sufficient doses has proven to be much more complicated than the process of developing a vaccine to fight the coronavirus.
Although it took less than a year for pharmaceutical companies to develop safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, they are not yet being produced at scale, priced affordably, allocated globally in quantities easily are available where most needed. Therein lies the challenge.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has authorised vaccines produced by AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University, BioNTech in partnership with Pfizer, Gamaleya, Moderna, and Sinopharm in partnership with the Beijing Institute—having licenced vaccines is not enough.
There are bottlenecks in the supply of raw materials and trade barriers that have hindered the work of the global vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX.
The facility has fallen short of its quest for equitable access to vaccines, delivering only about one in five of the Oxford/AstraZeneca doses it estimated would arrive by this month. Only a handful of countries, including our Caricom neighbour Dominica, have received the full amount they were allocated, Others, including T&T, have so far received a third or less of what they were allocated.
COVAX is also competing with individual countries that have done direct deals with pharmaceutical companies, offering higher prices to secure access more quickly.
As a result, Pfizer has agreed to sell a relatively small number of doses to COVAX but is directing the bulk of their supply to more lucrative private contracts, while Moderna is yet to supply the programme with a single dose.
Given these vaccine supply challenges, the best way out of T&T’s worsening public health crisis is by full conformity with the tried and proven protocols for physical distancing, the wearing of masks, and frequent, thorough sanitising.
The country has now entered a State of Emergency and a 9 pm to 5 am curfew on top of all the restrictions already in place.
Where moral suasion and urgent appeals previously failed, the hope is that tougher enforcement may finally bring about more of the responsible behaviour needed to defeat COVID-19.
The 100,000 Sinopharm vaccines currently en route from China, even if administered expeditiously, will not provide sufficient coverage in our 1.4 million population. Vaccines from other sources, whether purchased or donated, are still a long way off.
That means we must continue to adhere to and rely on public health protocols.
Already this month, COVID-19 has killed 107 of our citizens and without drastic action, T&T will descend deeper into a crisis.
This is a matter of life or death