Rishard Khan and Anna-Lisa Paul

Regional Health Authorities will be venturing into communities to administer COVID-19 vaccines after the number of people coming forward for jabs drastically reduced within recent weeks. The announcement came from the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology Division’s Technical Director Dr Avery Hinds at yesterday’s virtual press conference. “As we move into this accelerated phase of vaccination, one of the things that all of the RHAs are rolling out are additional outreach for communities where they do pop up vaccination sites at either community centres or schools or grocery car parks. Places like that,” he said. Hinds said these “pop-up vaccination sites” will be scheduled and announced by the respective RHAs.

He urged members of the population to avail themselves of the life-saving medicine, especial with the threat of the Delta variant looming. “The more vaccination we get into arms, into people ahead of any potential introduction of a new variant, the better off we will be in reducing the risk of spread,” he said. The Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) began its outreach on Tuesday in two locations. The first was at the Sangre Grande Civic Centre while the other was at the Superstar bar car park in Mafeking Village, Mayaro. The chief executive officer of the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) Salisha Baksh as well as the South West Regional Health Authority told Guardian Media preparations were underway in the respective regions and further details will be announced at a later date.

The new approach comes just days after Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh revealed at a press conference with the Prime Minister that vaccine uptake had dropped by around 50 per cent in recent weeks.

He said between July 21 to 23, approximately 15,000 doses were administered daily, however, that figure since dropped to between 7,000 to 8,000 daily doses.

The idea of community outreach was, however, hinted to by Minister Deyalsingh at previous press conferences.

Meanwhile, North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas said while there has been a marginal decrease in the numbers coming forward to be vaccinated within the last several weeks, this had not dampened their spirits.

He said, “We are doing a lot of community outreach so we went into Lopinot on the weekend where we were able to vaccinate between 300 and 400 persons. We also did around 600 in Bon Air Gardens.”

This, he claimed, was in addition to the 500 plus persons that turned up to be vaccinated via the drive-thru system.

Also, persons due to receive their second dose AstraZeneca and Sinopharm jabs are still being contacted via phone and scheduled by appointment.

Thomas said the NCRHA had joined hands with the MP’s in the various constituencies to get this phase of the vaccination programme going and, “So far, it seems to be working well.”

Revealing the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) had adopted a similar strategy to reach persons as they too had noted a slowing in the numbers, CEO Ronald Tsoi-A-Fatt said, “Nationally, there has been a little slow down but the ERHA is doing an extensive community outreach programme.”

He said clusters from each health centre would “be going into churches and different oragnisations over the next month to reach communities.”

Among the places they will be visiting will be popular bars and well-known fishing spots throughout their district as they want to reach the people.

From the start of the vaccination programme from March to August 2 – the NWRHA has so far administered 15,805 first dose AZ vaccines; 15,466 second dose AZ vaccines; 48,781 first dose Sinopharm vaccines; and 26,280 second dose vaccines.

In a release yesterday, the ERHA said it planned over 55 outreach programmes for August.

Today, community vaccinations will be held at the Matelot Community Centre at 8 am, Matelot Police Station at 10.30 am, and the St. Helena Community Centre at noon. The full schedule of community vaccinations is expected to be published on the ERHA’s Facebook by the day’s end.