Vaccine-related dilemmas | Daily News

Vaccine-related dilemmas

Are the vaccines being given to the appropriate vulnerable groups? The Health Ministry has made sure that the vaccine programme reaches the correct targeted groups amid some reports that in some quarters, they had “broken the queue”. The news, veracity notwithstanding, gives a snapshot of how fragile this early stage of the prevention campaign against Covid is. Are there enough vaccines to go around?

It is a valid question. The State will spare no pains and spare no expense to ensure that the jabs are brought down and distributed properly, yet, it is a staggering expense in these economically hard times. It is all the more reason that the inoculations have to go to the right people at the right time.

This would mean however that as the new strain spreads, there would be vulnerable sections of the population who would feel they are “left behind”. The truth would be that there would be nobody left behind, but that notwithstanding, time is of essence. In this context, there have been the instances of determined, almost furtive lobbying on behalf of certain professionals for instance, to have vaccine priority. The groups that want to be among the first to be vaccinated in this way, argue that they are in the ‘line of fire’ because their professions require them to interact with people more on a daily basis, than those of other professions.

Is any of this true? Other than the obvious case of frontline healthcare workers, is there a case to be made that certain professionals are more vulnerable than others? The public would naturally be skeptical about such claims. It is up to the authorities to evaluate all of these separate pitches made by various groups about vaccine prioritization.

This has to be very carefully done, as the public at large would consider any such prioritization a form of ‘triage by default.’ Correctly or wrongly, some sections of the citizenry may feel that they have been considered less of a priority, when it comes to matters of choosing who survives and who does not.

The vaccine in and of itself does not represent a life and death proposition. Most people, even if they contract Covid at some point in their lives will live anyway, and would only go through some minor inconvenience getting over symptoms, perhaps in a state of isolation. That situation does not represent a life and death choice with regard to the vaccine. However, for a very minuscule number of people, any delay in getting vaccinated may be a calamity.

It is why there may be some public sentiment about vaccine prioritization as a system of triage. Of course it is not a system of triage. Triage is when very hard decisions are made in emergency situations, as to who should live and whose lives should be left to chance.

The example of triage however was to convey the idea that vaccine prioritization can be a sensitive issue, and should therefore be handled by the authorities with utmost care.

The other side of the coin is the matter of “vaccine passports”. That is a term loosely used to describe a situation in which those who have received the vaccine having priority over others to travel anywhere and to be at any public venue – provided they are able to prove they have got the jab.

These are all sensitive issues. Should the public be judged and separated into groups in this way, and how healthy would that be to the collective public psyche? There are no ready answers to these questions and if there are any, such answers would probably emerge after long years of reality grappling with these issues as a society. We are all in extremely unchartered territory, and it is not known how effective the vaccine programmes would be, what repercussions they would have on society, and what the benefits are likely to be considering the costs involved.

There is general consensus among experts and the public that the vaccines would work. Why would not they, when the jabs have been given the go-ahead by the scientific community after much controlled testing? Though that is the consensus, the science does not necessarily concur.

That is because of the new strains of the virus that emerge and have emerged from time to time. The good news is that the vaccines already available are generally found to be efficacious for all strains – even though some countries have discontinued the use of certain specific brands, claiming they are less effective against the new strains.

All of the above clarifies one fact which is that despite the ready availability of inoculations, and the related developments, the situation still remains fluid. Too many variables and a lack of clarity on certain aspects relating to Covid preventive measures, means that there cannot be any sense of complacency with regard to dealing with the disease, and its future course. Nothing can be taken as a given. There is no substitute to eternal vigilance and carefully considered decision making, in the face of the contagion’s ravages.