Workmen off load the Sinopharm Beijing vaccines at the Piarco International Airport after its arrival, yesterday.

The Sinopharm vaccines, gifted to this country from China, will be distributed at health centres across Trinidad and Tobago from tomorrow but only those with appointments will be accepted.

“Come out and get your vaccines and start making your appointments, because absolutely no walk-ins will be accommodated as we don’t want mass gatherings,” said Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Response media briefing, Deyalsingh detailed the roll-out of the vaccines which arrived around 1 am yesterday (Wednesday).

They were approved by the World Health Organisation – WHO- via Emergency Use Licence.

Health workers at Couva Hospital immediately began packaging the vaccines for the start of tomorrow’s distribution programme.

Deyalsingh said the vaccines- which boosted this country’s stock by 100,000 – were the result of diplomatic efforts between Prime Minister Keith Rowley and his Chinese counterpart.

He said the Ministry of Health will now continue with Phase One of the vaccination drive (first doses) and parts of Phase 2 (second doses).

Vaccines will be distributed only strictly via appointment. People who walk-in without appointments wouldn’t be accommodated.

Deyalsingh said he spoke to the Chief Medical Officer and the ministry didn’t want mass gatherings, “So I appeal to the public, please don’t congregate outside of health centres if you don’t have an appointment.”

He also said there was a major difference between Sinopharm’s vaccines and Astrazeneca’s: the latter came in phials of 10 doses. Once opened, if there was no one else at the end of a vaccination day, walk-ins could be accommodated. But he said Sinopharm vaccines were packaged differently in phials of two to three doses and there was no flexibility to accommodate walk-ins.

Vaccinations will be done from Friday, all weekend into next week.

Those eligible are:

*People over 60 of regardless of health status (whether well or not).

* Those under 60 with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), (Hypertension, diabetes, asthma).

* Health workers.

*Nurses, doctors who aren’t yet vaccinated.

* All front line allied health workers (including patient escorts and receptionists).

* Teachers will be considered

* While obesity isn’t an NCD, it’s a condition that predisposes people to a bad outcome with respiratory diseases

Minister Deyalsingh urged the public to come forward, “So come out and get your vaccines. If we do this and vaccinate 50,000 people, this can have a huge impact on where we go with our current numbers.”

Vaccinations will be done at all health centres in the Eastern Regional Health Authority, North Central RHA, North West RHA, South West RHA, Tobago RHA. Contact numbers for appointments are on the ministry’s Health’s website.

This vaccination phase is expected to conclude in under two weeks.

Deyalsingh said the advantage with the Sinopharm vaccine is that someone could be fully vaccinated in under a month since the second dose is given in four weeks. AstraZeneca’s second dose comes three months after the first.

He said the expiry date for the Sinopharm vaccines is April 2023.

He said this was because Sinopharm used an old type of technology. The Minister added a third dose of the vaccine is recommended, much like how it may be recommended for the Pfizer vaccine after a year.

Regarding queries that someone died after taking the Astrazeneca vaccine or still got COVID-19, Director of the Epidemiology Division Dr Avery Hinds explained one person who died, had the first dose of vaccine and after tested positive for the virus.

He said people were still at high risk for the virus up to two to three weeks after getting a vaccine. But they will be at less of a risk for severe illness, hospitalization or death after that time.