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MSJ: Health minister has botched vaccine roll-out, new thinking and leadership is required

“[…] It should have been obvious to the minister of health that with all the deaths, the high number of cases and the reported dominance of the Brazilian variant, most people would want to be vaccinated. Get vaccinated has been the message for several weeks and citizens heeded the call. 

“The implementation is the responsibility of the minister of health. The excuse that they didn’t anticipate such a response is just not good enough. What happened yesterday showed that there was inadequate planning: one key aspect of which is forecasting…”

The following press statement on the Trinidad and Tobago government’s vaccination drive was submitted to Wired868 by Movement for Social Justice political leader David Abdulah:

Photo: The Penal Health Facility was engulfed by persons seeking Covid-19 vaccination shots on 9 June 2021.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/Wired868)

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is extremely disturbed by two facts that point to the need for new thinking and leadership skills at the Ministry of Health. 

There is no doubting that for the better part of a year, the Ministry of Health was able to successfully guide the country through the first phases of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country flattened the curve quickly and the number of positive cases and the number of people who sadly lost their lives, were both relatively low. Our success on the health front was due to the team of professionals in our public healthcare system.

In the past three months, however, the reality is very different. In the last six weeks we have moved from less than 200 deaths to over 600! Positive cases continue to be very worrisome and of course the economy is largely shut down.

The government has correctly targeted vaccination as the major way out of the crisis and has begun to get larger numbers of vaccines into the country with promises of more to come. The roll-out of the new vaccines to the persons other than those identified in the public-private ‘vaccinate to operate’ strategy has, however, been a disaster.

It should have been obvious to the minister of health that with all the deaths, the high number of cases and the reported dominance of the Brazilian variant, most people would want to be vaccinated. Get vaccinated has been the message for several weeks and citizens heeded the call. 

Photo: Nurse Keisha Gomes Prevatt (left) was first to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
At her side is Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh.
(via TTT online)

The implementation is the responsibility of the minister of health. The excuse that they didn’t anticipate such a response is just not good enough. What happened yesterday showed that there was inadequate planning: one key aspect of which is forecasting. 

The ministry definitely needs new skills such as planning, project management and event management to support our medical professionals.

It is clear that the vaccination roll-out has not been based on a thorough, medium term plan but has been developed ‘on the go’. Every day we are told of something new.  

The first come, first serve system—even if limited to persons over 60 and those below 60 with NCD’s was harebrained at best, when each health centre could only vaccinate 100 or so persons a day. The pain, frustration and anger of our senior citizens yesterday was real and distressing. 

Even the new alphabetical system was seen not to work very early this morning as there were news reports of persons who fit the age and name profile, being turned away as early as 7am. This is just not good enough!

Photo: People line up at the Siparia Health Facility on 9 June 2021, hoping to be vaccination against Covid-19.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/Wired868)

The worrying number of deaths is also cause for concern. The ‘isolate at home’ model is not working as too many people don’t have the luxury of so isolating, given their living conditions. 

We started off a year ago with all Covid positive persons being placed in a public health facility, but when the numbers increased this shifted to ‘isolate/quarantine at home’. That is now not working as the virus is spreading within families. The model needs to be changed. 

The MSJ has advocated utilising our many large and well outfitted community centres as facilities for those who can’t properly isolate at home. We also proposed utilising many more retired health care professionals to provide care in these facilities and to seek additional support from Cuba. 

We also said that existing nursing and other workers who have temporary employment but who are in a permanent job, should be given permanent contracts so that we can retain our staff as they are being lured abroad by lucrative opportunities.

We are not the only ones with ideas. The important thing is that the ministry cannot continue with the same old, same old approach. New ideas and new leadership is needed. That is the primary responsibility of the minister. 

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh (centre) poses with health workers at the Freeport Health Centre.
(via MoH)

Perhaps he has now gotten to the outer limit of his capacity given the magnitude of the present challenges; or has become so caught up with past success that he thinks he is on the crest of a wave. That was the message he communicated in the Parliament yesterday. 

Whatever it is, something has to change. At the minimum, the minister has to admit that things are failing and seek additional support, ideas and skills to complement our health care professionals, in whom we still have great faith. 

But they alone can’t guide this ship safely to shore. The minister of health will be judged on what he does now.

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One comment

  1. Seriously? Seems premature to claim the whole ship done sink now but I guess it wouldn’t be a day in T&T if it wasn’t an opportunity for somebody to score cheap political points off the regime in power. smh Last line is a blatant lie, since MSJ has clearly already judged the minister and all but convicted him too. Don’t get me wrong, he is not my favourite person but this cheap shot is just ridiculous. What is MSJ doing to help? A quick glance at their Facebook page shows clearly the health of the population is not at the top of their minds, but finding every means to criticise the govt is.