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Dr Victor Wheeler

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Tobago was yesterday one death away from recording its 100th COVID-19 fatality since the start of the pandemic, and a senior health official has warned that the island could also find itself running out of space to treat COVID patients if vaccine hesitancy continues.

According to Secretary for the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine almost all of those who have died from COVID on the island were unvaccinated.

“The research shows that 98 per cent or so of those persons who have since died are not fully vaccinated,” she said during a virtual update.

The three people who died on the island on Sunday were also unvaccinated.

Davidson-Celestine said 62 per cent (22,354 people) of the island’s targeted population had received the first dose of the vaccine and 57 per cent (20,352 people) were fully vaccinated.

“Let me remind you, we are talking about a targeted population of 36,000 out of the 60,000 population that we have currently,” she said.

She said 51 per cent of students are vaccinated. That amounted to 2,160 out of 4,200 with their first dose and 1,514 fully vaccinated.

“We still have approximately eight per cent more of the targeted population to be vaccinated,” she said in an encouraging tone.

Leading by example, Davidson-Celestine said 70 per cent (1,608 people) of the staff at the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) had received their first dose of the vaccine. She explained that the Sinopharm vaccine appeared to be the preferred choice for Tobagonians.

But no matter the choice, acting Medical Chief of Staff of the Scarborough General Hospital, Dr Victor Wheeler, pleaded with Tobagonians to take the jab.

He said while there is adequate space in the Intensive care units on the island currently, that can change if unvaccinated people keep contracting COVID-19.

On Monday, Principal Medical Officer of Institutions Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards announced that the Intensive Care Units and High Dependency Units at the nation’s COVID-19 treatment facilities were approaching capacity.

Yesterday, Dr Wheeler said they were working on creating more space but it would never be as much as available in Trinidad.

“We have space for two, in addition to that, the Accident and Emergency Department has three isolation rooms where we can provide additional care for patients who need an ICU bed….We are actively working on expanding that capacity,” Dr Wheeler said.

Tobago recorded 17 new cases yesterday, bringing the count to 309 active cases. There were no deaths.

But Dr Wheeler said the island has a high percentage of non-communicable diseases which add to the deaths of the unvaccinated.

“What we’ve seen with the deaths is obesity is a significant contributing comorbidity. I have seen persons who are obviously obese. I’ve tried to encourage them to get vaccinated but for some reason, some persons are resistant,” he said.

Davidson-Celestine said statistics show that residents of Tobago West are responding at a faster rate when compared to those in Tobago East.

“I am pleased that Tobagonians are responding to the vaccines, it has been an uphill battle, it has been very slow but at the same time it has been very steady,” she said.

Davidson-Celestine also announced that in three weeks’ time, there will be a full rollout of services at the Roxborough Hospital that was officially opened by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in January.

Construction cost approximately $98 million and the TRHA collected the keys in May. She said the selection process for leadership of the hospital was completed.

“We should see full operations by at least November 15, 2021…so that we can start to roll out some of the services that we have indicated to the community we will roll out,” Davidson-Celestine assured.

Meanwhile, with international flights set to return to Destination Tobago next month, some people in the tourism sector have completed training on how to operate in the midst of the pandemic.

Some 122 people in the accommodation, food and beverage sectors, as well as 63 people in tours and transportation, were trained in collaborative courses by the Division of Health, CARPHA and other bodies.

Davidson-Celestine said for the month of September, they have also assisted over 136 people with COVID-19 rental assistance amounting to over one million dollars and food support for 313 people.

She said they are also working with NGOs and religious bodies to reach the more vulnerable at this time.