Today, amid some fanfare, nurse Keisha Gomes Prevatt became the first person in Trinidad and Tobago to be vaccinated for Covid-19. The vaccination concluded a Ministry of Health press conference that took place at the Couva Hospital and Multi-training Facility.
Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said that the current health measures help us manage the pandemic, but they are not enough to get us back to normal life as we knew it.
“These physical measures will not take us to that place,” he said. “What will take us to that place is controlling the virus—where we have dominion over the virus—and the best way to do that is by employing a tried, proven, tested, old remedy used in the modern era since 1796.”
The remedy he spoke of was vaccines.
He spent most of his remarks extolling the safety of vaccines from smallpox to polio. He also said that 150 million people had taken the vaccine so far with no serious side effects.
“But in the United States every year, between three to 16,000 persons die every year taking Ibuprofen, which some of us swallow like candy,” he said. “Which is more dangerous?”
He went on to thank the nurses for their leadership in volunteering to be vaccinated.
“You are telling the country that you believe in the science. That you don’t believe in myths and superstition and old wives’ tales,” he said.
He added: “Today we draw a line in the sand and tell the virus that we are in control. And if we get enough of the population to take the vaccine, the day will come, I promise you, when you can hug your grandfather, go to a party, and life could return to what we knew it in January 2020.”
The ministry has said that it will take about 70% of the population to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Deyalsingh, however, has declined to say whether that would be enough to lift restrictions and return to normal.
He said that there was ‘no magic number’ of people vaccinated that would result in decisions to lift restrictions. Instead, the government will use a suite of data, including deaths and case numbers among other metrics, he said.
Meanwhile, the government has only secured enough vaccines to cover 20% of the population. While the government is in talks with the governments of India and China and vaccine manufacturers, no deal has yet been struck that would get more vaccines to the country.
With the first set of vaccines expected to take a year to roll out, the health ministry has still not given any clue as to when life, as we knew it in January 2020, might return.
After the panel including the health minister and other health directors took questions from the media, it was time for the main event. Seated in front of North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) and Ministry of Health banners, Gomes Prevatt, who works at the Caura hospital as an infection control and prevention (ICP) nurse, got her jab.
Masked photographers and news crews angled for their shot while Candice Alcantara, the health ministry’s head of communications, invited the members of the panel to get ‘closer to the action’ to observe the vaccination.
Deyalsingh sat next to the nurse while she received the shot. Nurse Gomes Prevatt was then handed a hand-written sign that read: “I got the Covid-19 vaccine today!! You should too!”
Both she and the health minister held the sign while posing for pictures.
Next up was Dr Don Martin, the medical chief of staff at the Couva hospital, who would also receive his jab before the cameras. Alcantara called out directions to Martin and the administering nurse, trying to position them in clear view of news crews.
Finally, after they tried several positions—first seated, then standing—Alcantara acknowledged: “Now this is a clinical activity; it’s most important we follow the clinical protocols. We’ll try to give you the best image possible.”
In the end, Dr Martin was inoculated standing up to applause. He, too, was given a sign to hold with the health minister while cameras flashed. His sign read: “I got the Covid-19 vaccine. Go get vaccinated!”
The Ministry of Health reported seven new cases of Covid-19 today, bringing the total since March 2020 to 7,663. No new deaths were recorded, so the death toll remains at 138.
There are 20 patients in hospital, 296 in state quarantine facilities and 130 at home in self-isolation.