Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh looks on as a woman receives the COVID-19 vaccine during a tour of SAPA, yesterday.

As the country reached 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says there is nothing his team could have done better or differently during these past 18 months.

Speaking to reporters after touring the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts mass vaccination site yesterday, Deyalsingh said, “What we knew at that time is what we did at the time. There is nothing we could have said to have done better or differently.”

Speaking about the mortality statistic, Deyalsingh said, “The fact is people all around the world have died from COVID. It is a tragedy but it is also a reflection of how unhealthy we are as a society with NCD’s, diabetes, hypertension, obesity. So some good could come out of this if those who are diabetics take better care of themselves so they don’t become statistics for other pandemics.”

He also said the government is ramping up its vaccination programme to include Venezuelan and other migrants as well as citizens now that there were enough vaccines for 400,000 people.

“Anyone who lives in T&T is free to access the vaccine. Migrant or non-migrant. As long as you are a human being living in Trinidad and Tobago, the vaccine is now open to anybody.

Government eyes reopening of retail sector

Minister Deyalsingh also said the government wanted to reopen the retail sector and had made arrangements with the various business chambers to vaccinate those involved in retailing.

“The individual chambers of commerce like San Fernando, Penal/Debe, Tunapuna, Sangre Grande, Arima… they have been asked to compile a list of not only the owners of retail but workers and submit names to the chamber of commerce. You will be funnelled through the mass vaccination site,” Deyalsingh said.

He added that their goal was to vaccinate 600,000 people by the end of September.

Deyalsingh also reiterated that there will be no walk-ins for vaccines. Those who cannot be accommodated at mass vaccination sites can make appointments at the 109 health centres.

“We have designated centres according to their size. A small health centre can accommodate 50, medium 75 and large 100. Any resident in any area if you are not in one of the sectors, can register interest with a health centre so in all they can have the capacity to do 7,000 vaccines,” Deyalsingh said.

To combat vaccine hesitancy, Deyalsingh said the government has rolled out a new communications campaign named Voices for Vaccination. This programme utilizes non-political influencers including religious leaders and entertainers to speak about the necessity of vaccinations.

The Minister expressed satisfaction that people with first doses were coming to get their second doses. He also said the Pfizer vaccine was the only vaccine approved for children under 18 and when it comes, it will be reserved solely for the secondary school population.

Deyalsingh said the only vaccine available for adults is the WHO-approved Sinopharm vaccines, noting that the batch of Astra Zeneca vaccines scheduled to arrive in August, will be used for second doses.

He also said systems were in place to mitigate against the Delta variant, now that borders were open.

“You must present a negative PCR within 72 hours of booking, you must be fully vaccinated for national or non-national….we have to learn to live with the virus. The UWI is already engaged with genomic sequencing issue where we take samples of returning people to test for the Delta variant and any other variant,” he said.

He added that the hospital capacity cannot be stretched, noting that the onus is now on the population to exercise, eat healthily, wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands and vaccinate.”