A group of people leaving the Grand Stand after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.

Rishard Khan

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The Ministry of Health has acknowledged the challenges being faced by the public in securing appointments to receive COVID-19 vaccines and said it will consider transitioning to a first-come, first-served approach for the future.

In the meantime, it is advising citizens to take whatever vaccine is available to them.

“Members of the public are asked to continue to be patient and to take a WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine once it is made available to them,” a ministry release yesterday said.

On challenges to secure appointments, the ministry said it was because of high demand which has filled most appointments in some Regional Health Authorities.

The South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) has confirmed that all its appointments were booked. The Eastern Regional Health Authority’s (ERHA) chief executive officer Ronald Tsoi-a-Fatt said there were still appointments available in his RHA.

The Ministry said there will be more vaccine appointment slots as the country receives more vaccines.

In the last 24 hours, 6,618 people received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is the highest daily jump in vaccinations recorded to date. There were 1,395 AstraZeneca doses administered and 5,223 Sinopharm.

While assurances have been given by the ministry for the way forward, the challenges of the current process have already left a bad taste in the mouths of some.

The T&T Medical Association’s public relations officer Dr Keegan Bhaggan said doctors are also frustrated as they too aren’t able to secure appointments. He said the development could obstruct the country’s journey to herd immunity.

“Vaccine hesitancy is a major problem and it’s a problem that’s multi-faceted. The thing about it – human behaviour is what it is…if the task becomes too difficult or challenging or obstructive then they will take the easier route of not bothering. Now you’ll end up driving people who on the fence away from actually being interested in the vaccine,” he said.

“In the long run, it’s only going to hurt us more.”

This is why he said more needs to be done to make the process more efficient or at least give people feedback.

“At least they’d understand where they’re at, whether they’re on a waiting list or something like that so that they feel less despair when they try to get an appointment and get nothing in return,” he said.

“That would be a big difference than hearing nothing at all.”

Despite those putting vaccination out of their minds, there are those, like Darren Raharitar, who said he will persevere.

“I do feel discouraged to be telling you the honest truth but I still have to keep trying,” he told Guardian Media.

He has been trying to secure vaccines since April for both his parents who are in the 70s. Since then he’s tried to make appointments at several locations.

Another person, Sharda Singh told Guardian Media she was remaining optimistic despite her own frustrations to get her elderly parents with comorbidities vaccinated.

“If there was another option I would have been discouraged, but at this point where the virus is so rampant and merciless, I do not have a choice,” she said.

While the process is difficult for some to secure the appointment, others have had luck and were able to secure spots and doses for themselves or loved ones.