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Ministry of Health Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards speaks at yesterday’s COVID-19 press conference.

Principal Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health, Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards, says there is no clinical evidence linking the recent deaths of two persons who received the AstraZeneca vaccine to the occurrence of blood clots.

Speaking during the ministry’s media briefing yesterday, Abdool-Richards reassured the nation that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective.

After Energy Minister Franklin Khan died suddenly over the weekend, the country was traumatised after learning he had received the first dose of the vaccine days before.

This followed the death of 60-year-old Ijaz Haniff, of Princes Town, who died on April 15, eight days after receiving the vaccine. He reportedly developed blood clots and became paralysed before his sudden demise.

Addressing the widespread public speculation about the two deaths and their relation to the vaccine yesterday, Abdool-Richards said, “The Ministry of Health is not aware of any evidence and there is no evidence to suggest that these two deaths that were recently reported are related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

She added, “I would like to reiterate that as per the WHO recommendations which look at the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines over a large number of persons, the AstraZeneca vaccine remains a safe and effective form of protection in line with the existing health measures to prevent COVID-19. The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine greatly and significantly outweigh the risks that exist.”

She said the ministry is moving ahead with its vaccination drive, adding the deaths had not managed to dim the public’s interest in being vaccinated.

Up to yesterday, Abdool-Richards said they had not “seen a decrease in the vaccine acceptance rates” and appealed to people in the 20 to 49-year age group, where the majority of cases were being diagnosed, to exercise greater personal responsibility as they move about in public.

Regarding the increased case numbers now being recorded and if there was a definitive link to gatherings during the just-concluded Easter vacation, Abdool-Richards said community transmission continued to take place.

“We are now seeing the increased cases during the post-Easter vacation in which there was congregation of persons in various areas, with beaches being one of them,” she confirmed.

“The Ministry of Health’s data and scientific information is that there has been a significant increase in the number of cases in the last 14 days, which really represents the timespan that we would expect to see a surge from a particular event.”

Chief Executive Officer of the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA), Salisha Baksh, said they were now operating four vaccine sites in Diego Martin, Barataria, Morvant and Carenage.

She spoke of the success their WhatsApp appointment system has been generating, as there had been reduced numbers in both walk-ins and persons calling the landline to secure appointments.

Officials have also admitted to a significant increase in hospital occupancy levels, now at 24 per cent; with Intensive Care Unit (ICU) levels having moved from five per cent to 25 per cent over a three-week period and the High Dependency Unit (HDU) levels also increasing four per cent to ten per cent for the same period.

Worrying trends have also been noted in the daily rolling average, which has doubled to almost 77 per day during the last week.

Having repatriated 76 T&T nationals from St Vincent and the Grenadines last week, Abdool-Richards said another repatriation exercise is scheduled for April 21, with 128 adults and three infants returning from Miami, USA.

Commenting on the pandemic fatigue among the public, Mental Health Director Dr Hazel Othello said it is a real phenomenon being experienced across the globe. She said people were fed up, tired, frustrated, depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed by the unexpected and unanticipated changes. However, she said life had to go on and one must now explore creative ways of how to enjoy life now.