Among the ten-odd parents gathered in the observation room just before midday Saturday, was a silent air of mutual respect.
They were among the few who had taken their cares for the Pfizer paediatric vaccine, available to children between the ages of five and 11 and the body language said they knew they’d likely be part of the vast minority.
Going and coming was a slow trickle, suggesting—not unexpectedly —there’d be a dim tally when the rollout finally ends.
To begin with, it appears that no one within the Ministry of Health considered that weekday hours between 8 am and 3 pm are the same hours that the target group is at school, or that shifting to somewhere between 2 pm and 7 pm would be more convenient to all.
The wrong times, however, will likely play a small role in the reasons why this rollout already seems dismal.
The Ministry must first consider the Herculean task of convincing hundreds of thousands of adults who themselves refused to take the vaccines regardless of brand and availability.
For reasons that range from world takeover plans to the biblical Mark of the Beast, it’s no secret that the government found it hard to inject the concept that the vaccine saved lives.
Even in the worst of times, with the Delta variant running rampant through the country last year killing scores of people each week, the uptake was a slow crawl upward and today we are yet to reach a vaccination rate of 51 per cent.
Radical beliefs aside, the problem with making decisions about vaccination amongst children is that the risk-benefit equation is considerably different in this age group, unlike, for example, adults over 60.
In an older person, the death risk following COVID-19 is markedly higher. Therefore, the decision to vaccinate is more straightforward in that age segment.
For this reason alone, even among the parents who took the vaccine, many don’t find it necessary for their children to do so, and more so with Omicron becoming the dominant variant with far fewer fatalities.
The thinking is that if the severe risk is far lower for adults now than it used to be, it’s certainly tremendously lower for children.
When one considers that since the restart of in-person classes the infection spread has been minimal, it will warrant a deeper level of convincing by those championing the paediatric vaccine.
Published data have shown children cope with COVID-19 quite well, with death rates below one in two million, believed to be in part due to their excellent innate immune response which gets rid of the virus early—another layer to penetrate.
The nays, quite frankly, resonate loudly.
But the message from the beginning of the COVID fight cannot yet be silenced.
It remains that despite the lesser probability of unvaccinated children being severely affected by COVID-19, children can still die from it as we have seen before in T&T.
Given the unpredictability of previous variants, there’s no absolute assurance in relying only on the strength of their immunities.
The government has done what any responsible government should do by making the vaccines available.
If it is indeed seeking to campaign for a high uptake, however, it must be aware that the task is now far greater than that of the adult population and must revisit all previous marketing strategies.
This one, we fear, will be the hardest of all challenges that the Government will face since vaccines started arriving on our shores in early 2021.