straight to the point – from different points of view

Vaccination blues

Vaccination blues

I may appear to be taking a bit of liberty today and venturing into an area outside of my fields of expertise, but I assure you that there is good reason for doing so as you shall see. I’m delving into the controversial matter of vaccination against COVID and our national approach to it. Have we properly examined the issues and made informed decisions as a nation?

I have the utmost respect for our health professionals and am not one to second guess them, as some others seem all too willing to do. By and large, and specifically with regard to what I am about to write, you will see that I ground my analysis and suggestions in the opinions and advice of our health professionals.

In this past week the USA has taken a small but important step in reopening its economy. Due to the success of its vaccination drive the health professionals over there have declared it safe to ease the requirement for fully vaccinated persons to wear masks in certain situations. This may seem a small matter but it heralds a continued loosening of restrictions with the blessing of health professionals as vaccinations continue, and hospitalisations and mortality rates decline.

This is unmitigated good news on the health front, but it is also hugely optimistic on the economic front. With the loosening of the mask mandate, we can surely expect parallel loosening of the strictures put on businesses, especially those that interact with the general public and rely on that public interaction for their trade. That freedom to associate for business and other purposes will be a shot in the arm for the economy.

At times like these, signals are a key factor in business decision making. Businesses make decisions in anticipation of events. As a result, sentiment plays a major role in the willingness of businesses to invest and grow. The USA, by this simple act has given its business sector the confidence that is required to start the process of reopening the economy, a goal shared by all right thinking persons.

It is something we could have anticipated, but we can still learn and benefit from the experience in the USA. The key message I want us to take away is that in the midst of a pandemic, the best health decisions are also the best decisions for the economy, and this applies whether you agree with the chosen health decisions or not. If we wish to return to our previous level of economic activity in the shortest possible timeframe, then we must make the best health decisions as directed by our health experts.

I am not asking you to agree or disagree with the thrust towards vaccination. I’m inviting you to accept that the American experience and the majority of public sentiment leads to the conclusion that vaccination rates need to be in the order of 60% or higher before we can expect to see a reversal in the decline of economic activity. I presume that we all want to see such a reversal of our economic fortunes.

So where are we and what do we need to do? The public data I’ve seen suggests that our vaccination numbers are in the low single digits as a percentage of the population. With improved vaccination rates estimated at 100,000 per month, it will take more than a year before our economy has a chance to blossom again. That is unacceptable and should drive our decision making with respect to acquisition and use of a million vaccines.

I hear complaints about the cost of the vaccines and am told that is why we have to wait our turn for vaccines to be donated or offered on undisclosed credit terms by the Chinese or others. I am staggered that we could find billions to treat the effects of the virus but cannot find a fraction of that amount to slow or halt the virus in its tracks.

T&T has had annual economic activity (GDP) estimated in recent years at around 150 billion dollars. Experts have suggested that the pandemic driven shutdown has shrunk that number by at least 50%. In other words, for every month of delay in getting the economy back up to speed we lose roughly 75/12 = 6.25 billion dollars of economic activity.

That realisation should drive, at least in part, the urgency with which we pursue large scale vaccination and the amount we are prepared to pay for it. The discussions I hear do not reflect the dire health and economic consequences of a vaccination process that is moving like treacle. The health benefits are clear. The economic realities are equally clear. It is imperative that we turbo charge our vaccination efforts, exploring every available option.

I suggest that we identify financing of at least 3 billion dollars to underpin the effort. We must then absolutely explore all possible options in concert with our health professionals. Is there any good reason for not using the private sector? Our need, and the economic and health benefits by far outweigh any considerations of who benefits in the narrow sense. We all, even those who do not get vaccinated, benefit from the most rapid vaccination operation possible.

Let us go out into the open market and move every obstacle in our way to achieve our goal. Why have we not heard about the vaccination in the works from our neighbours in Cuba? Given that it is near to final approval, I have to ask whether there is some political or other reason for the wall of silence about its pending approval and possible use and availability. Our Prime Minister famously proclaimed that he will not beg for vaccines. Does he have to beg to be allowed to purchase life saving vaccines from Cuba or is there some other reason for our reticence that he can share with us?

We seem willing to stand in line waiting for a big brother or sister somewhere to offer us some crumbs. A fraction of the sums already spent just marking time could have us almost fully vaccinated within three months. It will be a monumental effort, perhaps requiring the temporary deployment of doctors and nurses from elsewhere (Cuba?) but we can do it providing we have the ability to understand what is in our best national interest and to pursue it relentlessly.

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