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Daly Bread: In the interest of accountability—on spikes and vaccines

Dr Roshan Parasram, chief medical officer (CMO), and Dr Avery Hinds, technical director epidemiology, are trusted persons. I have said so more than once. It is from the facts, truth and science which they respectively deliver that I may raise issues about the government’s management of the pandemic.

The issue I raised last Sunday was this: who were the people, in response to the CMO’s concern at the increase in Covid-19 infections in early March, who ‘thought’ that the increase ‘was too small’.  

Photo: Ministry of Health chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram prepares to face the media at a virtual press conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

As I understand it, those doubters did not ‘follow the science’ of the multiplicative effect of infections when small numbers rapidly multiply into large numbers.

In a media conference the following day, an attempt was made to suggest that raising those questions was a personal attack on these two esteemed public officials. It was plainly delusional to suggest that, about a discussion of what the CMO in all honesty had revealed to us.

Infections and deaths this month have surpassed September 2020, which was the month after we congregated for general election campaigning. It has become the deadliest month. We must pursue an examination of the extent of the government’s share of responsibility for the continuing horror of May.

Also in the interest of accountability, we need to examine the vaccination programme required to protect us going forward against the deadlier consequences of infection. One can ignore what the constitutional opposition is saying on the subject of vaccination. The opposition is split and zig zag and can be as bad mouth as those in the government who wish to suppress accountability.

Photo: Nurses treat a patient in a Covid-19 ICU.

No one disputes that a tiny nation like ours is at a huge disadvantage in the international competition to procure vaccines. The government obtained a limited supply of AstraZeneca vaccines. Subject to the usual pressures of the ‘contact’ system and poor communications, approximately 60,000 citizens received a first dose and dates to return for the second dose.

Relying on the CMO—and not the political downward shading of the figure—we need to vaccinate one million citizens. While in the middle of a terrifying spike of infections, we are at less than 10% of that target at the moment. How will we get to the mark?

On Monday last, the minister of finance said that the government intends to acquire 1.5 million World Health Organisation (WHO)-approved Sinopharm vaccines and explained the source of loan funding to do so. That statement represents a governance commitment to which we can hold the government.

Although we may be worried that the government might be giving away more of east Port of Spain, at this crucial juncture we should all support this Sinopharm programme although wanting to know more about a possible private sector option.

Photo: The Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine.

The minister of finance’s statement may also calm the justifiable fears of the population that many will die while waiting for vaccines to arrive. In addition, citizens—previously nonchalant about vaccinations—are scared by the pictures now emerging of those who have died during this current spike and they may have become more amenable to vaccination.

We will hold the Ministry of Health to its statement that the Sinopharm vaccination programme can be achieved in three to four months. We should disregard the desire of its political arm to chain us up with anti-democratic conditionalities about what citizens are permitted and not permitted to say.

We do not really know why the private sector has not been encouraged to supply vaccines. Can it deliver on more competitive terms than Sinopharm?  

All we have in the public domain is government’s indication of disbelief that the private sector has the capacity to obtain vaccines, together with public relations banter about the possibility of ‘tax breaks’ and foreign concessions for the sector.  Fuller disclosure from both sides would be welcome.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

In this crisis, we should support reasonable measures to restrain careless behaviour, but there must be transparent explanations. No more games and evasions please.  In that regard, perhaps a blunt statement of Thomas Paine, agitator against colonial tyranny, is a useful coda to this week’s column: 

‘A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.’

 

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About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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One comment

  1. ” We do not really know why the private sector has not been encouraged to supply vaccines. Can it deliver on more competitive terms than Sinopharm? ”

    i normally read Mr Daly and find him to be reasonably credible.

    But I must admit that my regard for his opinions and column took a bit of a dip when he made the statement above.

    Clearly his reading of the international news much be much deeper than mine, I said to myself.

    But then, I quickly also said to myself…..hmmm …methinks he knows not of what he speaks.

    Anybody involved in any sort of production knows that the vaccine manufacturers of the world face an uphill battle to get 6 billion doses of vaccine made in as short a time as possible. The international news is rampant with stories about stretched and exhausted supply chains as well as deliberate hold backs by certain western countries of necessary raw materials as they seek their own interest first … hence the debacle in India going in today and India’s government doing the ” me first ” decision also..

    Maybe he missed the story about drug manufacturer Sanofi who abandoned their vaccine candidate in February/ March 2021 and their subsequent agreement to make the Pfizer ( subject to correction here ) vaccine, but they said that they could not start production until June 2021 as they had to prepare their manufacturing plant to do it.

    But really …did he say that the private sector would be able to get vaccines… most of us know that that is not possible… ask the World Health Organisation if you really have any doubts..

    Come on MR Daly, please keep up your column’s reputation by checking with sources who might be able to give you a better take on some of these facts.. Thank you