Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley addresses the media during yesterday’s post-Cabinet media conference at the Prime Minister’s Tobago residence in Blenheim, Tobago.

As the Government pushes to acquire more COVID-19 vaccines and aims to vaccinate 600,000 people by the end of September, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says they are now concerned the country may well have more vaccines than people willing to take them.

And he is particularly concerned about teachers.

Rowley made the comments at the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing at the Prime Minister’s Tobago residence in Blenheim yesterday.

He said thus far, there has been mass vaccinations of people in the supermarket industry, manufacturing, construction and food sectors.

However, he lamented that many teachers remain unvaccinated despite the Government’s mass vaccination programme that targeted them early on.

Only this week, the Ministry of Education launched its mass vaccination drive seeking to facilitate all teaching and non-teaching staff being vaccinated.

This was announced after another 5,000 vaccines were set aside for teachers.

Prior to this, 4,000 vaccines were allocated for all teachers and exam invigilators ahead of the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam on July 1 and those who were administering the Caribbean Examination Council exams. The Minister of Education disclosed back then that close to that number had been vaccinated.

Yesterday, Rowley said the slow rate of vaccination among teachers was a source of concern, as the Government was working to return the nation’s children to in-person classes when the new school year begins in September.

“I am very disappointed to hear that the arrangement made for teachers was not taken up. That has me very concerned, because I am hoping that the teachers would get vaccinated so that by the time we get around to school in September, we would not have the issue of vaccination of teachers and children…I hope that is just a temporary setback there. We would like to have as many as our teachers vaccinated as we go forward.”

Since March 2020, in-person learning had been halted after the Prime Minister ordered the closure of schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While SEA and secondary level students were able to sit exams and in some cases attended physical classes on a limited basis, all efforts by the Government to facilitate in-person learning for students were otherwise thwarted because of then rising COVID cases.

The Ministry of Education has drafted proposed guidelines for the reopening of schools which is now being considered by stakeholders.

In the meantime, Rowley said the Government will now begin targeting people in the retail sector for mass vaccination.

“The next big group that is on the horizon is the retail supply. Those like malls and retail stores.”

While debate continues nationally about unvaccinated employees, the Prime Minister was asked if he would keep those who were not vaccinated in his security detail.

The question arose after a report surfaced yesterday that President Paula-Mae Weekes had asked that unvaccinated security officers be transferred to other areas, away from her and her 92-year-old mother Phyllis Weekes.

Yesterday, Rowley said he too had taken such a position but still succumbed to the virus.

“I too have taken a similar decision because I am in the group of people who are particularly exposed to the virus, so I will do everything possible to reduce or minimise my exposure to being infected. I did that, but unfortunately, I was infected.”

Rowley tested positive for COVID-19 on April 6, 2021, the same day he was due to get his first shot of the COVID vaccine. He eventually got his first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine on July 13.

Despite his personal position, the Prime Minister stressed that Cabinet is not considering a mandatory programme. However, he encouraged Tobagonians to get vaccinated.

“You never know when you will be exposed to the virus.

Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Tobago, following news that 11,683 vaccinations were administered so far, of which 9,189 people had their second doses, the Prime Minister said he was “satisfied” the island’s health sector was doing its best to curb the number of infections.

He said after hearing of a “cluster” of infections at the hospital last week, he sent a team of medical professionals to see whether Tobago health officials were adhering to national protocols.

He said based on the team’s report, he is “satisfied.”

Yesterday, Tobago recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases recorded in 24 hours since March 2020. The new cases stood at 52, bringing the total active cases to 288.