Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat, second from right, with volunteers during the South West Regional Health Authority’s Vaccination Road Trip, One-Shot & Done in Moruga on Saturday.

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Shots of alcohol among friends, acres of marijuana fields and the best of country life can be found right in Moruga. But as Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat passed through the rural communities on Saturday, he found that people believed these were better options than taking a COVID-19 shot.

Last Saturday, the local hunters’ group in Moruga joined the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) for its Vaccination Road Trip, One-Shot & Done with the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

However, the experience during the drive moved Rambharat to take to his Facebook page yesterday, where he noted that as he walked into a yard around 4 pm on Saturday, Puncheon rum, Stag and weed flowed freely among the 20 or more persons gathered. He said their ages ranged from 16 to 60, all very friendly but unwilling to take the vaccine.

“The short walk to the vaccines was clearly too much for this Saturday afternoon. The Puncheon, Stag and weed are apparently more scientifically proven than the J&J One-Shot. I met so many scientists yesterday, including two bound-to-drunk outside the neighbourhood hardware and grocery in another Moruga community,” Rambharat posted.

He said while everyone would not agree with his post or that it came from him, he assured it was from him and very real.

Rambharat said the vaccination drives reach people who are willing and those who will become interested.

However, he said some people were too unconcerned and downright foolish about COVID-19 to care about being vaccinated. “Those people put all of us at risk,” he said.

Rambharat said since March 2020, he had received many calls from COVID-19 patients in the Couva Hospital and Multi-Training Facility and Augustus Long Hospital pleading for help.

“They cried, begged, bawled, and I could do nothing for them. Only one made it out. I have lost people I knew all my life and close friends. Get the vaccine, not the COVID-19 virus,” he wrote.

Also contacted yesterday, Rambharat told Guardian Media that he had spoken to hundreds of vaccinated people and had also heard several theories since the virus hit our shores.

They included that the vaccines were either the mark of the beast or a system of embedding a microchip within persons.

Some also claimed it was unreliable because scientists developed them too quickly.

Rambharat said he joined the effort in Moruga on Saturday as the Government seeks to increase vaccination uptake. He added that the Ministry of Agriculture had previously worked with the Ministry of Health and the North Central Regional Health Authority for vaccination drives at the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation in Chaguanas.

He explained that the hunters’ group sponsored the logistics, including tents, community awareness, transportation for residents and refreshments. The SWRHA provided a mobile clinic, staff and vaccines.

Despite the relatively poor response, he said as a first effort it was successful.

“Each person vaccinated is a victory and we were happy to get close to 75 persons,” the minister said.

He said, more importantly, the medical team learned what steps it has to take, including meeting people on every street and knocking on every door in the rural communities.

He said the vaccines were the best tool to reduce the chances of extreme illness, hospitalisation and death.

On August 20, T&T received 108,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the African Medical Supplies Platform. Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said then that the ministry would distribute the first tranche to residents in coastal and rural areas, including Las Cuevas, Matelot, San Souci, Kernahan, Guayaguayare, Moruga, Cedros, Los Iros, Charlotteville and Speyside.

Deyalsingh said there were many areas where people wanted the vaccines but they did not have the means to be transported to a mass vaccination site twice.