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Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards

Anna-Lisa Paul

As the public demand for the COVID-19 vaccine continued to swell yesterday, health officials had to increase the number of phone lines via which appointments for the jabs are being made at the regional health authorities.

In a bid to ensure free and fair access, the Ministry of Health is now looking at introducing an online system that will improve accessibility and establish a more efficient appointment system within the next week.

As the lone Cabinet minister to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday described the growing demand as a sign that the public has faith in the vaccine and that “there is a high level of vaccine acceptance in T&T.”

Echoing this as she appeared alongside Deyalsingh at the ministry’s media conference, Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards admitted that following Tuesday’s roll-out, the long waiting times to make appointments were identified as a challenge.

“Yes, we have received concerns from members of the population regarding the time taken to reach the hotlines and also, regarding persons who would have gone in to make appointments themselves,” Abdool-Richards said.

An example of the interest was recorded at the Diego Martin Health Centre, where officials recorded 600 persons going in for vaccinations on Tuesday.

Assuring that additional processes have since been put in place, Abdool-Richards said at the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA), they had increased phone lines from five, while at the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) it was increased from four to eight phone lines by yesterday. Promising to increase the staff operating these call lines from Friday, she said physicians and nurses will also be assigned to respond to public queries.

Deyalsingh said he did not experience any of the usual side effects, such as fever or pain, although others may have after receiving the vaccine. Health officials also did not record any adverse reactions among the populace who had been vaccinated, he added, noting paracetamol had been prescribed for use by persons who experienced side effects.

Deyalsingh encouraged more persons to get vaccinated.

“I am totally glad to have been vaccinated. I personally trust the vaccine and have faith in the vaccine, otherwise I would not have taken it,” he said.

He said over 2,000 vaccines had been administered to the population up to that time, adding they surpassed the initial 1,000-vaccine projection for the first day of the roll-out programme on Tuesday and inoculated 1,153 persons across the five regional health authorities.

Up to 6 pm on Tuesday, the NWRHA had recorded the smallest number of persons vaccinated at 80, while the SWRHA recorded the largest number at 471 persons being vaccinated. The North Central Regional Health Authority reported 280 persons; the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) 171 and the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) recorded 151 persons accessing the vaccine.

Deyalsingh confirmed that the 40,000 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India were on schedule to arrive on Monday but could not answer questions relating to the expiry dates of this particular batch of vaccines. On the vaccine acquisition via the African Medical Council, Deyalsingh said they are still awaiting a sales contract from them.

In this first phase of vaccination, health care workers and persons over the age of 60 with and without comorbidities are being targeted. Phase two will focus on essential workers such as law enforcement, teachers, councillors and politicians.

BOX:

NCRHA Contact Numbers:

Chaguanas – 378-4374

St Joseph – 378-3707

Arima – 380-1844

La Horquetta – 380 1704

NWRHA Contact Numbers

285-8988 and 285-8993 Ext 1205/1231/1239