Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh today vowed to soon have ‘dominion over the Covid-19’ virus. Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference Deyalsingh said the country was moving from managing Covid-19 to controlling it through vaccinations.
According to Deyalsingh, a vaccination drive may not remove the need to wear masks, social distance or wash hands, but he is hoping for no more Covid-19 related deaths, hospitalisations or patients in the ICU, as well as more children returning to schools and the re-opening of Trinidad and Tobago’s international borders.
“If we can control the virus with a robust vaccination programme—which we are putting in place—life as we know it, or as we knew it before February 2020 … could return to some degree of normalcy,” he said. “… But to do that we must get a certain number of people vaccinated so we can control the virus.”
When asked whether 20% of the population—the number of people planned to be vaccinated with vaccines obtained through the Covax facility in the next year—was enough to return to the level normalcy he described, the minister demurred.
“There is no magic percentage I can tell you that will lead to borders reopening or rollback on restrictions,” he said. “It will depend on, yes, the number of vaccines, two, the number of cases, three, the number of fatalities, four, the robustness of healthcare response.”
Deyalsingh also said that getting to herd immunity would take a lot more time and require more than the planned 20–33% be immunised. But could not say when that might happen.
“To give you an exact date at this point in time—my crystal ball does not take me so far into the future,” he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines herd immunity as: ‘the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection’. To get to herd immunity against Covid-19, experts have estimated between 60% and 90% of the population would need to be immunised.
But what happens if countries never reach such high levels of vaccine coverage? Some experts have said that we may never achieve herd immunity. A recent preprint (non-peer-reviewed) study from the University of East Anglia concludes it will not be possible to achieve herd immunity through vaccination alone.
So does that mean the pandemic will never end? No, says a February article in the scientific journal The Lancet. What is more likely, the article states, is that the disease will become endemic (restricted to a certain place) and at a low level.
Professor Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College in London said that while herd immunity would be difficult to achieve, it didn’t mean that we would have to live under current restrictions indefinitely.
He said: “If a high proportion of those that are at risk of severe complications from the disease are vaccinated, then the number of hospitalisations and deaths will be dramatically reduced and the way we react to the circulating virus should become similar to the way that we react to other circulating viruses such as influenza.”
The health ministry reported 14 new cases of Covid-19 today, Wednesday 10 February. To date, 7,631 positive cases have been detected from 89,002 tests since March 2020. During that time, 136 people have died from the disease.
There are currently 28 patients in hospital, including four in the intensive care unit. Two hundred and fourteen people are in state quarantine facilities and 139 are in home self-isolation.