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Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh MP.

T&T is set to receive between 100,000 to 120,000 doses of the AstraZeneca two-dose vaccine by the end of February into March. Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 people will receive the vaccine in T&T in this first phase.

The good news was announced by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh late Saturday, hours after he was informed by Dr Erica Wheeler of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), who said the vaccines had been procured via the COVAX Facility. Addressing the T&T Medical Association Virtual Presidential Inauguration & Conferring of Honours Ceremony 2021, Deyalsingh said the hope to manage this pandemic was a vaccine.

Admitting the roll out of vaccine across the globe had proven to be very problematic, the minister said “Some countries have taken a decision that they will roll out all their doses, not knowing whether they will get a batch of vaccines for the second shot as recommended by manufacturers.”

With T&T preparing to receive vaccines since last year, Deyalsingh recounted that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley signed an expression of interest on July 18, 2020, cementing T&T’s entry into the COVAX Facility.

Declaring the COVID-19 pandemic had “put a different spin on life,” Deyalsingh said T&T had managed it very well so far though it had brought with it many sleepless nights.

Pointing to the 4,000 deaths per day that had been occurring across the US, he said if the Government had not moved decisively to take action, we could haven seen 17 people dying per day in T&T.

Addressing how the roll out will be done, Deyalsingh said it will follow two parallel systems. In the public sector, it will be managed by the Ministry of Health, while the private health care sector will be managed by itself with oversight from the ministry through Health Systems Adviser, Dr Stewart Smith.

Referring to the emerging variants globally, Deyalsingh said this had hastened the ministry’s decision to scale up the vaccination programme both in terms of time and quantity.

He said, “The science tells us if you don’t want these variants to become entrenched, you need to vaccinate your population as quickly as humanly possible.”

Having reached out on Saturday to five private hospitals who have agreed to be part of this initiative, Deyalsingh said, “The private sector will be doing their vaccination programme in tandem with the public sector. What we are aiming to do is to take the vaccination to people instead of people coming for the vaccination.”

He said the vaccines will be given to the private facilities for free and he has appealed to the operators of these institutions to also “give it away free.” He was heartened not to encounter any hesitation to this request.

Indicating private institutions will not only receive vaccines for their frontline workers and patients, Deyalsingh said it would also benefit the immediate community settings where these institutions are situated as part of the effort to take the vaccine to people.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is already being used in Britain and has been approved for emergency use by half a dozen countries, including India, Pakistan, Argentina and Mexico.

The minister said T&T had already stockpiled 1.5 million syringes and one million alcohol swabs, even as they continued field training exercises.

He said they would soon conduct three real-life vaccination programmes in Couva, Arima and Tobago to assist the ministry to compile its Standard Operating Procedures which will then be disseminated to the TTMA for distribution.

The ministry has the capacity to store over 300,000 vaccines between two and eight degrees such as the AstraZeneca; the capacity to store 200 Pfizer vaccines at -70 degrees; and similar capacity to store the Modern vaccine at -20 degrees.

T&T’s vaccine acquisition is being done via three channels including the COVAX Facility; bi-lateral talks with manufacturers such as Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Sinopharm; and through the Caricom initiative using the African Medical Council to procure vaccines for this region.

Deyalsingh said they would now decide how this initial batch of vaccines would be divided between the public and private sectors.

Meanwhile at yesterday’s media briefing hosted by the ministry, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said they had begun to create a master list of eligible people using the information contained in the current database of the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP) which numbers from 80,000 upwards. He said health care workers and those suffering from non-communicable diseases were also included on the list.

Parasram said they had reached out to all the regional health authorities for client information so the ministry could begin to contact people to come in.

He said people registered in the various clinics would also be given an opportunity to be vaccinated, and while they were not encouraging people to simply walk in, once an individual is assessed and meets the criteria, they would be vaccinated.

Also at the briefing, Geographic Information Systems Manager, Epidemiology Division of the Ministry of Health Roshan Seeramsingh presented a detailed analysis on COVID-19 cluster patterns in each county in T&T. Expressing concern as they continue to see several cases presenting in home settings along the East-West Corridor spanning the counties of St George Central, St George East and up to St Andrews-St David, he said this was evidence of what was happening in homes and the behaviour among family members.

Seeramsingh appealed to people to remain vigilant and enforce public health measures as he said the elderly and babies were among the most vulnerable. He advised people to avoid home gatherings as much as possible.

9 new positive cases

During the period 4 pm Friday to 4 pm Saturday, the Ministry of Health recorded a total of nine new positive cases. These samples were taken during the period of January 27 to 29.

Of the 261 total active cases presently; a total of 32 patients remain in hospital.

The deaths have remained at 134.

Total patients in step-down facilities stood at four, while total patients at state-quarantine facilities numbered 348, and the total number of people in home isolation was said to be 216.