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people wait to get the COVID- 19 vaccine outside the the Barataria Health Centre on Seventh Street, Barataria, yesterday. 

Anna-Lisa Paul

The Ministry of Health’s (MoH) new vaccine rollout system has been described as a failure and is being heavily criticised for falling flat as it did not deliver the much anticipated injection of hope into the panicked population demanding COVID-19 vaccines.

And in the midst of an overwhelming call for the ministry to account for the second consecutive day of chaos and confusion that reigned at designated health centres across Trinidad yesterday – both Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram has maintained a deafening silence on the matter.

It was only on June 9 that Deyalsingh announced the new alphabet system to be implemented which would see persons whose surnames fall into the various blocks of five letters, being accommodated.

This new system came hours after the ministry announced they would be doing away with the appointment system which had they admitted, had not been working well – and would instead employ a first come/first served system at 36 health centres.

All RHA heads are scheduled to meet with the ministry today.

Offering the nation an unreserved apology Wednesday morning after thousands turned up expecting to be vaccinated based on their arrival time and place in the line, Deyalsingh said the categories would begin with A – E, followed by F – J and so on.

However, this system did not go as smoothly as thought yesterday as hundreds again turned up expecting to get their first jab of the vaccine so they could live up to government’s call for them to vaccinate and operate.

Angry after learning that designated health centres only received 50 doses of the vaccine each yesterday, Randolph Berry said he went to the San Juan Health Centre around 6.30 am and was told that 50 names had already been recorded.

Deciding to try his luck at the St Joseph Enhanced Health Centre, Berry said he was disappointed to arrive and find long lines of persons outside also.

Dejected and disappointed after being turned away from the two places, he said, “I don’t know what I am going to do now…I guess they say next week when they go back to A to E. It might be the same 50 people again. I might have to come and sleep here.”

Confronted with the knowledge that this would constitute a breach of the 9 pm to 5 am curfew currently in effect, he said. “That is the next thing. I don’t know what really going on.”

A 65-year-old truck driver from St Augustine who suffers with diabetes and whose last name starts with B, also voiced a similar complaint after he arrived at this health centre around 6 am to find the officials were no longer accepting persons. He had previously attempted to secure a vaccine using the appointment system but had been unsuccessful then.

There has been confirmation from the chief executive officers of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) and the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) that only 50 vaccines were dispensed to each health centre yesterday.

Chief executive officer of the NCRHA Davlin Thomas and chief executive officer of the ERHA Ronald Tsoi-a-Fatt were unable to say if this will be the norm going forward.

Pressed to say why mass vaccination sites such as stadiums and cinemas were not used to accommodate crowds which are mainly constituted of the elderly and infirmed, and why so little vaccines are being dispensed – both men directed such queries to the MOH.

They both said that only a few people with surnames from each letter of the five-block alphabet were vaccinated yesterday. This works out to be only ten persons per letter being vaccinated daily at each designated health centre.

So for those who were unable to get on the list yesterday, they admitted, “They will have to wait until their cycle comes back next week.”

A 59-year-old woman who was lucky enough to get number 38 at the Barataria Health Centre was turned away after lining up for more than 90 minutes, after nursing personnel said they were only dealing with persons aged 60 and over.

She complained of having to wait another week within a vaccine as she said, “It will be the same big crowd again so it don’t make sense. The Government saying one thing and then they telling you here you can’t get vaccinated because you are not 60.”

Similar complaints were recorded from persons who visited both the Diego Martin and Carenage Health Centres.

Health centres are due to dispense vaccines to persons whose surnames begin with the letters F – J today.

During a radio interview yesterday morning when he was questioned as to why vaccine numbers were restricted to the lower end of the scale at 50, Deyalsingh laid this squarely on the shoulders of the RHA heads.

He said, “The CEO’s who are in charge of the health centres wanted to be comfortable with an amount across the board so that the other services in the health centre could continue like Child Guidance, the NCD’s Clinic, the Mental Health Clinic and so on.”

He claimed the CEO’s and the Ministry of Health had agreed that, “At this stage, 50 was a comfortable number bearing in mind that very soon, we are going to have to start administering second doses of Sinopharm.”

The minister also sought to defend against a repeat of what occurred on Wednesday when scores turned up for the vaccine.

He claimed reports yesterday indicated that what happened on Wednesday had not been repeated – however, NCRHA’s CEO admitted to long lines again as he said, “We did have some dissatisfaction from people who came to be vaccinated and could not be accommodated.”

Tsoi-a-Fatt, however, reported no long lines and calm across the ERHA’s reach as he said, “They were fairly well organised. We had the support of the TTPS but we really didn’t need much support because everything was well organised.”

Deyalsingh claimed to have spoken with all RHA heads prior to Wednesday’s first come/first served system being rolled out.

The minister said the authorities had targeted specific sub-sets of vulnerable persons on Wednesday as they were the ones who were either succumbing to the virus or requiring specialized care.