Failure to reach herd immunity could prompt some serious decisions from government

Approval of the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine for use by the Pharmacy Council could give the push toward herd immunity even more impetus (Photo courtesy Marco Verch/Pharmaceutical Technology)
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By Orville Williams

With much of the country’s hopes for an economic rebound dependent on vaccinating enough residents for Covid-19 to reach herd immunity, Information Minister Melford Nicholas suggested yesterday that some serious decisions may have to be taken if that threshold is not reached in an acceptable time.

The minister stopped short of making any specific pronouncements during the post-Cabinet media briefing, but he seemed to accept that taking further action was inevitable if the country finds itself in that predicament.

“There is somewhere in the good book that said ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ – [so], if at the end of the day we have all of the vaccines and we have gone out and done a full blast, we have church leaders, community leaders, everyone trying to identify those persons in the society who have not yet taken the vaccines, we’re going to have to deal with the reality of that.

“Because if it does threaten the end of our way of life, then I suppose under those circumstances – if all else has failed – then we will have to deal with that particular reality on its own merit.”

Health officials have projected that reaching herd immunity would require the inoculation of approximately 80 percent of the population, and since the Health Ministry’s public vaccination programme started at the beginning of March this year, nearly 30,000 people have already received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Considering that trajectory, herd immunity could actually be reached in only a few months, but that reality would depend – as Nicholas alluded – on the availability of vaccines and the buy-in from a large part of the population.

In South Africa for example, the government is aiming to vaccinate at least 67 percent of its population to reach herd immunity, but some vaccine experts there have already confessed that that goal is not likely to be achieved this year.

Several factors are to blame for the slow rollout in South Africa, including access to vaccine doses, multiple waves of infection and the dreaded virus mutations.

In Antigua and Barbuda, however, vaccine doses have been secured by the government in a commendable time – in relation to the population size – new infections have largely been contained over the past weeks and the country has, so far, been spared the impact of the more dangerous coronavirus variants.

All this considered, the perceivably simpler move to get the vaccine doses into arms will therefore be the single most important factor in achieving herd immunity and putting the country in good stead for a substantial economic rebound.

As Nicholas also explained, residents who may have been vaccinated abroad will contribute to the overall vaccination figures, upon their return to the island.

“We have taken a [further] decision [on the vaccination process] and the mechanisms have got to be put in place through the Ministry of Health, their respective community and polyclinics.

“There are a number of persons who have gone abroad or who have been abroad and have acquired a full suite of vaccines, either the Johnson & Johnson single dose or a dual-dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. We want those persons to come forward and register those vaccines as well; they will be kept in a separate register.

“The reason for that is that they would be an essential part of the society [or] the community and those numbers are important and significant as well – they will add to the total number of persons in the society that are vaccinated.”

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