Despite months of preparation for the rollout of the Ministry of Health’s vaccination programme, health officials are struggling to manage the volume of requests for vaccines.
Principal medical officer, Dr Maryam Abdool Richards, said: “We have received concerns from members of the population regarding the time taken to reach the hotlines and also regarding the persons who would have gone into the health centres to make appointments themselves.”
Dr Richards said while a challenge, she considered the number of requests a positive sign that there was high acceptance for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Just to let you know the high level of interest in this vaccine, Diego Martin health centre alone had over 600 persons coming in to make appointments, on a phased basis, of course, yesterday,” she said.
According to Dr Richards, who spoke at the health ministry’s virtual media conference, the regional health authorities were already responding to the high demand by increasing the number of phone lines to take appointment requests.
“At the North West RHA (North West Regional Health Authority), they have increased the number of lines to five lines, they have increased staffing for persons to communicate with members of the population based on the appointment system and expected wait time,” she said.
“At the southwest RHA, they have four lines to eight lines as of this morning to really increase that sort of communication and the efficiency of the process. We are in the process of increasing staffing levels by Friday of this week so that the lines are properly manned.”
Dr Richards added that an online appointment system was expected to go live within the next week.
“This is a learning process for us, and we are in the business of continuous improvement. Hope to see an improvement in the system within the next 48 hours,” she said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh did not give any more details about the condition of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who has tested positive for Covid-19.
“The Office of the Prime Minister will send out bulletins, as they have done in the past, keeping the country apprised of the progress the honourable prime minister is making,” he said.
He also did not disclose how Dr Rowley was being treated, saying only that the prime minister’s healthcare ‘is being handled at this time by the Tobago Regional Health Authority and his medical team will make all necessary arrangements for his optimal care whether in Trinidad or Tobago as they deem fit’.
Also speaking at the media conference, North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas said that more people were showing up at the facilities to be vaccinated than had been pre-registered.
“The appointments that we’ve had from pre-registration of NCD patients and staff would have been under 100 persons per day. The average numbers of persons who call or show up are over 300,” he said.
Dr Richards said that physicians and nurses assessed people who went to health facilities to be vaccinated to confirm whether they had a non-communicable disease or a chronic disease.
“What I can say is that the reports yesterday, which we were following at the ministry, of the 1153 persons, all persons fit the criteria. So, I have to commend members of the population for being very honest in terms of their risk factors and again for their high level of vaccine acceptance,” she said.
As some European countries have again suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over concerns about a possible link to blood clotting reactions, Richard said the risk was small. She advised that people with a history of blood clotting issues should consult a physician before getting the jab.
“These persons are assessed on a case by case basis because there are several causes of blood and blood clots. Some are really chronic and long term in nature, some may be acute or one-off events, some may actually be even a side effect of medication that a person may be using.
“As such, an assessment will be done by the physician and especially by a specialist, with a recommendation then being passed on to the vaccine administration team. I would like to reiterate and emphasise that at the ministry of health we are concerned about safety, not necessarily expediency and these patients and persons will be assessed by their physicians,” she said.
More vaccines are expected in the country as early as Monday when 40,000 doses donated by the Indian government is scheduled to arrive.
The health minister said that there was no date yet the second shipment of vaccines from the Covax facility. The government, he said, had not yet received a quotation and therefore had not paid for the balance of vaccines expected to arrive in May.
He did say, however, that the government would be using a grant from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (Carpha) to purchase the second shipment. According to the health minister, the grant was not applied to the first tranche of vaccines as doing so would have delayed its shipment.
“That grant funding that Carpha has from the EU we are now going to be applying it to the second batch. So now the actual price we would be paying for the second batch, now we have the time to facilitate that grant funding, may be actually less than the US$4.41 per dose,” Deyalsingh said.
The Ministry of Health reported 21 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total to 8,235 infections since March 2020.
There are currently 405 confirmed active cases in the country, with 40 patients in hospital and seven in step-down facilities. Dr Richards said that hospital occupancy rates had jumped from 2% at the beginning of the year to 12-13% today.
There are 251 people isolated in state quarantine facilities and 339 in at-home isolation. Since March 2020, 145 people have died of Covid-19.