Employees in the manufacturing sector register to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturing Association Mass Vaccination Centre, Divali Nagar Compound, Chaguanas, yesterday.

The country’s first public/private mass vaccination drive has exceeded expectations with 2,697 employees in the manufacturing sector being vaccinated yesterday. While Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh estimated that 2,500 citizens a day could be serviced at the Divali Nagar in Chaguanas, 197 more were able to benefit from yesterday’s event which was a partnership between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry Trade and Industry, and the T&T Manufacturers Association (TTMA). Sources said that impressive numbers achieved set a local record for the most number of vaccines administered at a single location over a day. According to statistics presented by the Ministry of Health in its daily COVID-19 update, late yesterday afternoon, a total of 118,577 had received their first dose on Sunday as compared to 114,161 on Saturday. The TTMA’s members that were vaccinated during the drive accounted for almost two thirds of all citizens across T&T who got their first dose yesterday.

Addressing the media at the start of the drive, Deyalsingh said the initiative would greatly assist the Government in achieving its vaccination goals and in turn allow it to reopen more sectors in the country sooner. “We want to get back and open the economy as soon as humanly possible…This will exponentially increase the number of vaccinated persons in T&T,” Deyalsingh said. He said after the TTMA’s members use the 5,000 vaccines allotted for their first dose, the site would be used to serve other sectors such as food and beverage, which have also partnered with the ministry and been given priority access to vaccines. Deyalsingh also noted that the mass vaccination drive will also focus on the construction and private security sectors and would work in tandem with the current appointments system used by regional health care centres. He also noted that on Wednesday, the ministry would launch its first come first serve system at regional health centres for persons over 60 without non-communicable diseases and persons under 60 with non-communicable diseases such as asthma and obesity. He suggested that provided that the Government receives a steady supply of commercially obtained vaccines, as expected, it hopes to extend the vaccination programme and fully cover an additional 380,000 citizens by October. Deyalsingh also praised the TTMA for organising the initiative at short notice as he claimed that it had come up with useful ideas for making the vaccination drive more efficient while maintaining safety. “I must say that they did not only take the template but they actually improved on it. They learned from us and we are now going to learn from them,” Deyalsingh said. He also revealed that the ministry was expecting a fresh batch of vaccines this week, but declined to give details over the manufacturer and the quantity until closer to that time. TTMA president Tricia Coosal said that she was pleased with her members’ response to the vaccinate drive and even noted that it was oversubscribed with members putting forward more participants that could have been accommodated with the specific allocation of vaccines. “This augurs well for manufacturers as we believe that we are the lifeblood of the economy and we can continue to sustain livelihoods while being safe and preserving lives,” Coosal said. Coosal noted that there had been some vaccine hesitancy but said that her organisation was addressing it by combating misinformation with public education programmes. Yesterday’s vaccination drive, which utilised the AstraZeneca vaccine, was supported by volunteers from the T&T Medical Association and Sewa International TT. The association’s president Dr Vishi Beharry claimed that medical professionals including doctors, interns, nurses and even veterinarians had volunteered to give up their weekend to assist in vaccinating citizens. “They all came out and understand that we have to vaccinate our population. We are here to support as always,” Beharry said. Also speaking at the event was Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon who said she hoped that it would be extended to more non-essential manufacturers so that the Government could possibly achieve its goal of a 50 per cent increase in manufacturing by 2025. “The only way we can do that is to get everyone vaccinated,” Gopee-Scoon said. In a brief interview after receiving his vaccine, Rayon George, an employee of Carib Glass, said he was pleased with the initiative as he had attempted to secure an appointment but was unsuccessful.“I encourage people to come out to get this vaccine because we could be able to open places faster and the country could go back to some normalcy,” George said. Speaking at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s on Saturday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley revealed that through an arrangement with the African Medical Council (AMC) the country is expected to receive 800,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccines by August.

A second shipment of Sinopharm vaccines to supplement the 100,000 doses donated by the Chinese Government is also expected to arrive in T&T, later this week. “We can now confidently say that we have a vaccination programme by the next 12 weeks… June, July, August…depending on the shipping arrangements, we would be able to vaccinate a substantial amount of people,” Rowley said. He added: “We can now fairly, reasonably say that we are at the beginning of what is required to bring this infection under control, to have some semblance of normalcy returning to our country and lives.” Rowley also revealed that based on current local vaccination figures and mass vaccinations in North America, the Government would move to reopen the country’s borders and remove the entry exemption process that has been in place since, last March, in the next four to six weeks.