Barbados has received a shipment of 100,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, a game changer in our fight against the deadly COVID-19.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley described it as “momentous” occasion and indeed it is, given the uneven access to vaccines for small island developing states like ours.
On behalf of a grateful nation, we ought to extend our thanks to the Government and people of India, whose Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest vaccine maker.
Based on the advice of experts at home and aboard, we have every reason to be optimistic that vaccination can turn the tide against this microscopic enemy that has ended many lives, upended countless others, toppled our economy and shaken the globe.
Surely, the evidence that Barbados has not had to grapple with diseases like diphtheria, polio, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and tuberculosis largely because of a successful vaccination programme is a good starting point for all to consider.
Over the past few days, our medical experts have sought to educate the public on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and while public education should have started earlier, the critical message should not be missed.
One such piece of notable advice came from Clinical Pharmacologist at the University of the West Indies and Chairman of the Barbados Drug Formulary, Dr Kenneth Connell, who told a national update on Sunday that reluctance to accept the jabs would leave a window of opportunity for the development of COVID-19 variants that could render the current vaccines futile.
He said: “There is an important clock that is ticking. This virus is in an environment and is mutating and the longer the population takes to be immunized, the more variants will emerge and the more likely the variant that emerges will be more resistant to a vaccine.
“Quite often people may sit back and say that they will give it a year or two and see what happens before taking the vaccine. You are not doing the population any good by delaying your immunization. You are only making it more susceptible to variants.”
And Prime Minister Mottley has assured that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was the best option for Barbados.
She said: “We do believe that of all the vaccines out there, this is one of the most suited ones for Barbados and other tropical nations like our own because the temperatures required for storage are not as rigorous as some of the other vaccines although we are ensuring that if necessary we are in a position to also be able to store some of the more rigorous ones that require minus 80 degrees. This one, however, is stored at temperatures we are accustomed to in our country.”
Government has started to articulate its plan for the roll out of the vaccine. So far, we know that frontline workers, the elderly and other vulnerable groups are among the first to be targeted and the jab will be administered at the island’s nine polyclinics by teams of health workers.
No doubt it will be a challenging national exercise but success will depend on far more than vaccination centres, personnel, transport and the like. It’s going to need public buy-in.
For this campaign to work, Barbadians must be comfortable and confident that getting the jab is the right thing to do.
We have no detailed public opinion evidence to refer to, but we have a hunch that most Barbadians may we willing to give it a try.
Still, they are some who are reluctant and there’s every reason to convince them otherwise.
Apart from those who consider themselves anti-vaxxers, most Barbadians are reasonable and rational. Most of us want this nightmare to end and to return to some measure of normalcy.
Many have based their reluctance on the speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were developed and received what appear to be speedy approvals from authorities. Somehow, they cannot be convinced of the vast body of science that daily probes the boundaries of threats most never see and too microscopic for humans to perceive.
The sceptical may need depth and detailed information about the vaccines, especially the benefits and the risks.
Giving them the full picture may inspire confidence about the safety of the vaccine and trust in public health officials – even as they live and breathe with lifelong immunity afforded them by childhood jabs, produced by the same donor nation they now question.
But indeed, the arrival of vaccines is not the end of our fight.
Even as some fret over whether there are adverse reactions to a vaccine, others are only too painfully aware of the most adverse reaction to the virus itself.
As of writing, 20 Barbadians have lost their lives to COVID-19. With a total of 1, 814 confirmed cases, Barbadians can ill afford to drop our guard. This is no time for parties and defying the protocols. Stick to proven ways to crush COVID; wear your masks, physical distance and frequently wash and sanitise your hands.
Above all, let us inoculate ourselves from mindless groupthink, conspiracy theories, crude malevolence, and dangerous ignorance.
Our lives may depend on a healthy dose of cold, hard facts.