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Members of the public wait in line to get their first jab of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at the Diego Martin Health Centre yesterday.

Anna-Lisa Paul

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has offered the nation an unreserved apology for under estimating the demand for COVID-19 vaccines as thousands turned up at health centres from as early as 5 am yesterday, hoping to be vaccinated in order to operate.

As day one of the move to quash the vaccine appointment system dawned, chaos reigned at the 36 health centres designated as vaccination sites by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Trinidad.

Long meandering lines could be seen far beyond the centres as both the young and old and even the disabled, braved the weather in the hopes of getting their first shot of a vaccine.

Outside all of the centres, police officers were seen trying to enforce crowd control measures as some anxious persons temporarily disregarded the public health regulation to social distance.

And as is the national culture to “lime” at any opportunity – at least one group of people were captured sitting on outdoor chairs playing cards to while away the time.

Acknowledging the ministry’s mistake in adequately preparing for the numbers when he appeared during the virtual media briefing at 11 am, Deyalsingh said, “The appointment system which we had instituted was not really working in the best interest of our elderly so we thought we would move to a first come, first served basis which many of them were asking for.”

Not expecting the overwhelming response that arose as a result, he admitted yesterday’s confusion had “created many issues across the 36 health centres.”

Forced to institute a new system from today to mitigate against a re occurrence, Deyalsingh said, “We will start an alphabetical system using surnames in groups of five.”

He added: From today, “We are going to only be handling persons over 60 with surnames starting from A to E…will get into our health centres. On Friday, we will do F to J and then we will communicate with the public so on and so on.”

This new rolling system will now be used to decide who and how many persons will be vaccinated on a daily basis.

Using the public’s response yesterday as the bench-mark to determine there has been a high level of vaccine acceptance throughout, Deyalsingh said over the last three days, the number of people to have received their second vaccine had risen from 1,179 to 4,228.

Yesterday’s walk-in was specifically meant to capture those aged 60 years and older who do and do not suffer with co-morbidities; along with people less than 60 years of age who suffer with co=morbidities.

Meanwhile, the minister said Government is considering setting up drive-in vaccination sites as the vaccine roll-out programme continues.

He said protocols were updated for the rollout of second doses, which includes a reduced observation time from 30 minutes to 20 minutes.

The proposal for the drive-in vaccination sites are currently before Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram.

Responding to a question regarding the migrant community in T&T being considered for COVID-19 vaccines, Deyalsingh assured that persons who had entered this country whether through legal or illegal means, have been considered.

He said, “This is planned for what we call Phase 3 in the vaccination rollout. That is when we get huge amounts of vaccines. So all immigrants, every soul in T&T will have access to vaccines. That is Government’s policy and will be implemented pending the arrival of what we call large commercial quantities of vaccines.”

The registered Venezuelan migrant population in T&T stands at approximately 16,000 – but it is believed this subset of persons exceeds 40,000.