Vaccinations a top priority

Stepping away from the political circus currently keeping the country’s eyes transfixed on the Supreme Court at Mulinuu, other important matters facing the nation and indeed our region deserve a little more exploration.

Despite having several months to plan the national vaccine rollout, the Government still managed to create unnecessary bumps along the way; from a sputtering start shrouded in secrecy, to a launch that ensured those within their own ranks were first in line.

While that me-first approach may have been a sigh of relief for some (who perhaps felt it was a good move to see what side effects there were in the first wave of inoculations) it is still a strange and confusing plan from the Government.

They are still operating on a reactive instead of proactive basis - failing to notify anyone outside of their inner circle of the first vaccine shots being administered, not specifying early on who exactly would be receiving the vaccine, failing to notify the public of an early-quarantine release for the Chief Justice and the mixed messages of whether or not the vaccine was compulsory.

Already we are hearing feedback that members of the community are choosing not to be vaccinated. As the world remains shuttered, and the dead number in the millions, this is precisely the kind of reaction the government should be trying their hardest to prevent.

Maybe we’ve been in our bubble of safety too long that our people are now jaded at the realities facing other nations - of the mind-blowing body counts and overwhelming of national health services.

The world is in the midst of second and third wave infections, with different variants bringing countries to a standstill.

So far, we have been lucky.

Samoa has been blessed to have kept the Covid-19 infection away. The safety measures implemented through the state of emergency restrictions, over the last year or so, have been tolerated only because Samoa has been one of a small handful of countries to have never had a community transmission.

So why put that at risk with an extraordinary decision to allow early-release from quarantine for some travellers? Was it absolutely necessary to let them out early?

The early release of the Chief Justice has been called “special treatment” by political figures, but it’s the opinion of medical professionals we should be focusing on.

On the front of Tuesday’s edition, Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris, co-leader of the Global Vaccine Data Network, shared her views on early-release from quarantine.

“I really wish Samoa wouldn’t let their guard down, after all the pain we’ve been all going through,” she said.

“India is a really good example for what happens when you let down your guard. They thought they had it under control.”

The situation in India has reached critical levels. They are struggling to deal with an explosion of coronavirus infection, despite being on its 101st day of a nationwide vaccine rollout.

Their government failed to acknowledge the problems, concealed numbers of infected and dead, politicized the pandemic amid an election season [these seem familiar].

While nowhere near the scale of India’s population, outbreak, resources and size; Samoa should be using these oversights as examples and warnings of what not to do.

We don’t even need to look beyond our region as our neighbours, Fiji, are currently facing a possible outbreak with at least 12 new community cases announced this week. The national airline has cancelled all flights until May, joining the government’s efforts to contain a possible wider spread of the virus.

Samoa is in a precarious position and the wrong decisions could spell catastrophe for thousands and thousands of our people.

The desire to return to normal, as soon as possible, is always going to be there. Our people will complain about restrictions and whine about closed borders, but ultimately we are all united in our gratitude at not having had community transmission yet.

The fear of vaccines is there. It’s real and it’s more common than one might think. And perhaps the privilege of opting in or out of receiving the AstraZeneca shot is due to our special position of being Covid-free. But it’s incumbent upon the Government to make the rollout as transparent and bump-free as possible.

That begins with a unified message from the top to the bottom. Aside from conflicting messages of ‘compulsory’ and ‘non-compulsory’ coming from the heads of government, some of those working on the ground aren’t even sure if the public can photograph the process.

Something as simple as that can cause hesitation.

We all want our lives to return to normal. We all want to be able to travel to visit family, or have family travel home to see us (and spend their money on island!).

The only way that is likely to happen is with vaccination.

“The vaccine is very good at reducing the spread but it’s not 100 per cent,” says Dr. Petousis-Harris.

That may be the reason for some members of our community to refrain from vaccination, but there are very few, if any, vaccines that are 100 per cent effective.

The point of vaccines is to create group immunity or group protection, where enough members of the community are protected against the virus, thereby protecting the rest of the community who are unable to receive the vaccine for medical reasons.

The good Doctor brings this point home by clarifying that the data for the AstraZeneca vaccine shows reduced infection and transmission.

“The data for AstraZeneca vaccine in particular for the United Kingdom indicates that it does reduce infection and transmission as well as the disease, so that’s good that it is contributing to that community immunity or herd immunity.

“It [has] really, really high protection against severe infection and death, and then it’s also quite good protection against any symptoms, and then it also is quite good at stopping people from getting infected and then transmitting it.”

What we need to see from Government is less mystery, more positive and proactive messaging about why we need most of our population vaccinated.

Remember, you are dealing with people who believe in re-gifting pyramid schemes, so the messages have to be constant and consistent.

Failing to vaccinate enough of the nation will mean something far worse in the future. Nobody wants to update on body counts.

In these politically charged times, the public servants who are spearheading the vaccination rollout must have the trust of the public.

Trust takes time to rebuild, and this is an opportunity to regain peoples’ trust, lost during the Measles fiasco.  

Provided, that is, that Government learn from past mistakes and don’t fall back on the usual methods of picking and choosing when to be transparent.

Politicians from all sides of Parliament should also refrain from politicizing the issue because there is more at stake than a seat in the House.

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