By Orville Williams
Residents are being warned to quit procrastinating and get their Covid-19 vaccines now, rather than running the risk of allowing the virus to mutate into more dangerous forms and render the pandemic uncontrollable.
As of yesterday, Health Ministry data showed just over 37,000 people have taken a first dose of the vaccine, while more than 28,000 people have received a second dose – meaning the population is still some way away from the herd immunity target of approximately 65,000 people.
Dr Courtney Lewis, Deputy Chairman of the National Technical Working Group (NTWG) on Covid-19 vaccinations, says the longer it takes for the population to get fully inoculated, the more aggressive the virus will get, the more it will mutate and the more lives it will continue to threaten.
“Viruses only have one job, which is to kill us. To use a metaphor, Covid is going to murder school and right now, it’s in its infancy, so it’s [in] kindergarten. It’s kind of scary that in kindergarten, it’s already killed over 100 million people, [so] imagine when it gets to high school [or] imagine when it goes to college.
“The longer we allow Covid-19 to stay in the population, to spread, to jump from person to person, it is the longer we pay its tuition, the longer we allow it to go to school and the longer we allow it to learn how to kill us more effectively.”
The government has been rather successful in its efforts to acquire the vaccines on island, following significant concern earlier this year that low availability could affect countries like Antigua and Barbuda for many months.
Our programme began with the acquisition of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been widely used in the public vaccination programme, but now also includes the Russian-manufactured Sputnik V and most recently, the China-made Sinopharm.
The fruit of this labour will, no doubt, be the coveted herd immunity threshold, but Dr Lewis explained further that the slow pace of vaccinations could make the vaccines way less useful in the fight, if the pandemic reaches an uncontrollable state.
“The thing is, as Covid-19 mutates or as it changes, the technology that we use – including some of the vaccines – to recognise it and combat it, stop recognising it as easily.
“So far, we’re quite fortunate with the vaccines that we’re putting out right now, they’re still able to recognise the majority of the variants that we currently have. Very few of them will not recognise one out of five [and] some will recognise all five.
“The big danger, and what nobody is talking about, is what happens when Covid really learns how to disguise itself and ‘beat’ these vaccines. If you wait until then, then you may find that vaccinating the population becomes less and less effective as it moves forward.
“What we’re trying to do now is control the pandemic while it is still controllable; it’s much easier to control a toddler than it is to control a full-grown, aggrieved person.”
He also bemoaned the fact that the sustained chatter about vaccinations across all forms of media does not match up to the vaccination figures. This, he says, is one of the biggest plights of the entire process.
“It seems as though since we actually invented these vaccines to try and curb the pandemic, they have kind of taken over the discussion and not really taken over the treatment.
“So, we are still seeing very slow uptake of the vaccines, even though they seem to be the big topic…so much so that we don’t really talk about Covid-19 itself, so to speak,” Dr Lewis added.
Along with the vaccines already on island, the government has signaled its intention to acquire some of the vaccines manufactured by US pharmaceutical companies – including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – as they become available.