In a passionate speech, MP of Antigua and Barbuda, Asot Michael, fought an effort to repeal emergency legislation enabling the government to impose social distancing measures, such as curfews. Even though, as Michael pointed out at the time, Antigua was fortunate to have received many vaccines, he emphasized the importance of continued vigilance.
Today, Antigua and Barbuda is well underway in building on that initial momentum of vaccination, buttressed by the government’s continued vigilance.
Asot Michael Buying Time for Vaccination
As countries throughout the world have learned, the margin for error in the fight against COVID-19 is vanishingly small. Fortunately for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, Asot Michael and most of his fellow MPs had learned this lesson well by the time the last emergency resolution was set to expire. They voted to pass a new resolution to enable the social distancing measures which allowed the vaccination drive to have its effect.
At the time Michael gave his speech in early March, positive cases in Antigua and Barbuda had increased seven times since the beginning of the year and deaths had risen to 28. Since then, when the 7-day average of new cases peaked at 28 per day, it has come down to a more manageable average of one new case per day.
What might have happened had these restrictions not stayed in place is anyone’s guess. However, had the resolution expired on March 31st as it was set to, social distancing measures would have been unenforceable in the month of April, when the seven-day average of new cases in India skyrocketed from around 60,000 per day to over 350,000 per day.
Cautious Optimism for Antigua and Barbuda’s Recovery
In a prescient speech to Antigua and Barbuda Parliament regarding the 2021 budget earlier this year, Asot Michael cautioned against what he considered to be overly optimistic projections. He explained: “The 2021 budget statement looks to the future with confidence undisturbed by the reality of growth restrictions imposed on the global economy by the coronavirus pandemic.”
He followed this by explaining this overconfidence was the only reservation he held. He noted that he supported the overall strategy which included building economic resilience through sustainable growth in construction, tourism, and agriculture.
Unfortunately, the headwinds that Michael warned about did indeed come to fruition. During the spike of COVID-19 cases in the month of February and through March, the United States increased its threat assessment level of Antigua and Barbuda from Level Two to Level Four. This meant, essentially, that the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommended against travel to Antigua and Barbuda. For Antigua and Barbuda, which relies on the United States as one of its largest suppliers of tourists, this presented a significant headwind.
That headwind was made even worse when the United Kingdom, another of the largest sources of tourists, recommended against travel to Antigua and Barbuda.
The good news, however, is that the United Kingdom, United States, and Antigua are all on a fast track to have a significant portion of their population vaccinated. Taken together, each country’s vaccination drives will help raise the tide of tourism that the citizens and residents of Antigua and Barbuda rely so heavily on for economic opportunities.
The Current State of Antigua and Barbuda’s Vaccination Drive
As Asot Michael mentioned, Antigua and Barbuda was very fortunate to have received the vaccines it did. The good news is that fortune has not run out. On May 12th, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Health, Wellness, and Environment announced the official rollout of the second dose administration of the COVID-19 vaccination.
In a televised event, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rhonda Sealy Thomas, St. John’s Medical Center Director, Dr. Albert Duncan, and Principal Nursing Officer Sister Margaret Smith, along with healthcare workers, began the second dose administration process on May 12th.
After healthcare workers are vaccinated with their second dose, members of parliament, including Asot Michael, will receive their second dose.
As the administration of the second dose ramps up, public health officials are asking the public to pay close attention to the dates on their vaccination cards. These dates indicate when and where citizens and residents must return to receive their second dose.
Public health officials say that for two-dose vaccines, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine, it’s important to avoid the temptation to skip the second dose. They say that completing both doses provides the best protection against COVID-19. This is both because the second dose enables recipients to be protected for longer and because it offers better protection against variant strains of the virus.
Asot Michael’s Fight Against Vaccine Hesitancy
The primary challenge Antigua and Barbuda, Asot Michael, and his fellow government officials face now is to educate and encourage the public to get vaccinated. While there have been 31,647 first vaccine doses and 1,598-second doses administered as of May 12th, Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s set a goal for 70 percent of the population to be fully vaccinated. On his weekend radio program, Browne said: “Well I want to say definitively to the people of Antigua and Barbuda that we do not have the luxury of not getting vaccinated and if we do not get the herd immunity perhaps in the next 60 to 90 days there is going to be weeping and gnashing of teeth in this country,”
To reach Browne’s goal, around 70,000 of Antigua and Barbuda’s population of roughly 100,000 must be fully vaccinated. Browne’s rough deadline of 60 to 90 days to reach herd immunity puts pressure on citizens, government officials, and healthcare workers to fully administer roughly 30,000-second doses plus another 40,000 first and second doses. Once that’s done, or even before, it’s likely that countries like the United States and the United Kingdom will lift travel restrictions and allow Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism to help the rest of the economy recover.
Providing for the Health of Antigua and Barbuda
In his speech to Parliament earlier this year, Asot Michael said:
“Our work in the governance of this country must always be in sync with the transformational agenda of the nation Sir Vere Cornwall Bird that empowered our people with better health, better education, better income, land, house… and overall — a better quality of life.”
As vaccination ramps up and light peeks out from the end of the tunnel, Antigua and Barbuda’s government is doing what it can in the fight against Covid19 to ensure it stays true to Michael’s words by providing vaccines and encouraging residents to vaccinate themselves to empower their neighbors with better health, education, income, and overall, a better quality of life.