The Ministry of Health will begin its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine today, Wednesday 17 February. First in line for the vaccine are frontline healthcare workers at the Couva Hospital and Training Facility.
Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh announced the start of the rollout, using the 2,000 doses received from Barbados, at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference.
The 2,000 vaccine doses, Deyalsingh said, was a gift to the Caricom region from India. On Sunday Barbados and Dominica received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines through the Indian government’s Vaccine Maitri initiative, which will donate 500,000 vaccines to the region.
Deyalsingh said that T&T received an emergency use authorisation (EUA) and emergency use license (EUL) from the World Health Organisation on 15 February to use the vaccines.
With this WHO approval, the most at-risk and exposed frontline healthcare workers will now receive the vaccine. These health professionals include those who interact with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients and those performing tests for the virus.
The Couva, Caura, Arima and Augustus Long facilities will all be given doses of the vaccine today. Doses of the vaccine will be shipped to Tobago on Thrusday.
“What we are using this as is to show healthcare workers several things: 1) government’s need to care for them by giving them first bite at the cherry, 2) to demonstrate safety and efficacy, 3) to set the ball rolling and to have these persons being vaccinated today show their colleagues that they have total faith in the vaccination programme.”
Asked whether members of the government would also soon be receiving jabs to demonstrate confidence in the vaccine, Deyalsingh said that would happen later.
“I will feel personally responsible if I took the vaccine now, used up that dose and then a healthcare worker didn’t get it and died,” he said. “… So to open it up to government, opposition, to senators and then you don’t have enough for these important people will be a bit reckless on our part.”
Instead, he said, the people responsible for governing the country would fall under essential workers, along with teachers and sanitation workers. That group will receive the vaccine when the country receives the 100,000 doses from the Covax facility expected by the start of March.
Davlin Thomas, CEO of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), said he was confident that the NCRHA would be able to seamlessly manage the distribution of the vaccines to its frontline workers. He added that between 50 and 100 people were expected to be vaccinated today.
Thomas also said that healthcare workers had been educated about the vaccines, and he did not anticipate many would refuse the shots.
He said: “That special brand of person who stands at the gate between life and death, particularly when we have a virus coming at us, that type of person who volunteered to do that is certainly the bold and the brave. I have very little doubt those persons will hesitate.”
Deyalsingh added that focus groups showed that healthcare workers were adopting a ‘wait-and-see approach’.
“Once they see their peers taking it, they will follow suit,” he said.
He added: “We know that we won’t get 100% buy-in … but I think most healthcare workers will take advantage of this because they understand the science and they understand the need to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
The health minister said that the government was continuing talks with the governments of India and China, and bilateral talks with pharmaceutical companies to procure more Covid-19 vaccine doses.
He said that through Caricom’s access to the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), a procurement system for supplies and equipment in the fight against Covid-19, Trinidad and Tobago had requested 226,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNtech and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
He did not confirm any finalised purchases through these channels.
Minister Deyalsingh also would not confirm whether visiting football teams would be exempt from quarantine rules to be allowed to play games in T&T, given new Fifa rules.
“It is up to the TTFA and/or the Ministry of Sport to make the final decision and announcement,” he said.