Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh greets a Parliamentary police officer before attending the sitting of the Senate, yesterday.

There has been a 50 per cent increase in people seeking COVID-19 vaccines since word of the Government’s public sector safe zone policy began.

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh indicated this yesterday while replying to a query from Opposition Senator Wade Mark in the Senate.

Mark had asked whether the Government had implemented new strategies “aimed at assuaging the fears and concerns of the public and encouraging them to become vaccinated.”

Deyalsingh detailed a list of communication strategies to encourage vaccination.

He added that as of January 9 this year, the number of people who had received their first dose of a two-dose regime was 670,713.

The number of fully vaccinated people is 674,618, representing 48.2 per cent of the population and the number of people who have received their booster shots is 90,359.

Mark asked if there had been any uptick in demand for vaccines after the public sector safe zone policy was announced.

Deyalsingh said, “We have noted a 50 per cent increase in people accessing vaccines (first dose or Johnson and Johnson).”

“But T&T needs some solidarity if we need to increase our rates. It’s said a picture paints a thousand words. Would Senator Mark agree to a collective picture of all six UNC senators and all 16 PNM senators displaying their vaccination cards to send a message to the population that we want vaccinations?’’

Deyalsingh said collective leadership called for, “Us to put aside our swords and words and show solidarity.”

Mark who didn’t respond to the suggestion, instead said if Deyalsingh claimed vaccines were safe and effective, he should say if Government would stand liability for workers who may suffer adverse effects.

Deyalsingh said the Attorney General had spoken to that more than once, “But I notice Senator Mark has studiously avoided responding on my call for a collective picture of all UNC and PNM senators to send a signal (on vaccination) to the population.”

Senate President Christine Kangaloo then had to caution Mark and Opposition Senator Damien Lyder who began “rumbling.”

On Independent Senator Anthony Vieira’s query about the recording of adverse effects, Deyalsingh said all adverse effects as opposed to side effects were traced, monitored and reported to the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization.

He said in administering to a population over 1.3 million, less than five to ten known adverse effects had been reported and not one had resulted in death.

“So the message is vaccines are safe. Compare that to the daily COVID fatality rate of 15, 20, 30—but not one death due to vaccines.”

On Independent Senator Paul Richards’ query about measures to increase vaccination levels, Deyalsingh cited measures including studies and reports to determine the reasons for vaccine hesitancy across T&T since last year.

The Social Sciences faculty at UWI had also been re-engaged to advise on strategies to be implemented to reach people who may still have doubt about vaccines’ safety, he said.

Deyalsingh added, “There are also continuous education efforts by the RHAs and private sector and Health is also utilising new spokespersons and opinion leaders to encourage persons to be vaccinated.”

Deyalsingh said the issue of vaccine hesitancy remained the same globally—questions on safety and the fact that COVID served as a catalyst for radicalisation and conspiracy theories. Social media, especially the way Facebook algorithms were set up allowed for more anti-vaccine content.

“But we’re working and T&T is at 48.2 per cent vaccinated and I’m glad that about 1,000 to 1,500 are being vaccinated daily.”