Crowds of frustrated people waited hours at the St Joseph Enhanced Health Centre, Mt Hope, before receiving their vaccine yesterday while some were told to return today.
Upset and tired of waiting were the words used by many patients, especially the elderly, who told the Express they had been waiting some two to four, even six, hours outside the health centre, under a tent in the rain, to get their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
There were also many people waiting to be vaccinated inside the health centre.
Speaking with the Express yesterday, one distressed couple said their appointment was for 9 a.m., but they had been there “since morning and we have not been told anything besides just wait”.
At 2.30 p.m., neither of their names was called to receive the vaccine.
One elderly woman told a nurse at the health centre: “My appointment was for 11 and I came since 9. All my waist hurting. I haven’t eaten all day. Oh gosh, I could be your mother at my age. When will I get to go inside?”
The woman put one hand on her back and cried for pain, but was told by the nurse to be seated until she was called.
One man said: “People coming for their appointments on time and here just filling up.”
For hours, the cries of many patients fell on deaf ears until one woman became infuriated and started shouting at the staff, complaining she had been waiting for too long and was diabetic.
The woman shouted: “I saw many people walk in here without an appointment because they have friends in here. So how we going? Are we going in numerical order? Are we going at the time we arrive? How are we going?
“They have people outside there since 10 o’clock and 8 o’clock and thing. How come the people who just arrived walk in here like they own it? Are their taxpayer’s money more than my father’s own? Or they have their friend in here, that’s why they are allowed in here?”
A customer cervice representative at the North-Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), Karen Burgess, addressed the crowd, saying: “I know you all would have had 10 o’clock appointments, 10.30 appointments, we started late. We started at 10. It is only one nurse giving the vaccine. One nurse we have.
“After you get the vaccine, you have to be observed for at least a half an hour. We must empty out before we bring in more people because we’re trying as much as we can to social distance, so everybody has to be monitored for their half an hour before you leave to make sure that you’re not ill, so that’s going to kind of delay us. As well as with the one nurse giving the vaccines.”
She informed them that ten people had been called inside to be vaccinated and when they were done, another set would be called.
However, people told the Express that was not the case all day.
Another man said: “It’s three and four people they calling at one time. You say it only have one nurse, why you not telling us this? Most of us living close by, you could have told us, let us go home to eat and come back.”
Another elderly man said: “Since we’re here this morning, they only call about 20-something people’s name since and look at the time, it’s 2 o’clock.”
Also explaining the delay to patients yesterday, a staff member said: “We short-staff today. People ain’t come to work, so it’s only so much we can do at one time.”
When asked why staff needed to vaccinate people did not show up for work yesterday, he added: “I don’t know why. They have their own medical reasons why they ain’t come to work. They know why they ain’t come to work.”
However, also speaking with the Express via phone yesterday, NCRHA chief executive officer Davlin Thomas said: “We did have some people waiting because they came late.”
“We are urging people to come on time for their appointments. If you come late, you now have to wait until we have a possibility of engaging people again,” he added.
Thomas also said in order to not cause a wastage of the vaccines, once the vials have been opened, they need to be used, thus, if people do not arrive on time, other people will be called in to be vaccinated.
When asked about the late start yesterday. Thomas said: “We have recorded that the first person got vaccinated just around 9 o’clock.”
Dissatisfied with the explanations given, people continued to complain because they said they witnessed other people arriving hours after them and got their vaccines without a wait.
One man said: “We here since 10 o’clock and people coming after and getting through before us. We have seen it with our own eyes. We’re not just saying this. They letting their friends and who they know get through.”
Another man said: “My appointment was 10.45 and we were here way before that, and look, its after 2 and we’re still waiting. And people coming, going through that back there and getting through. And certain people, too. Not people with my skin colour.”
An elderly woman who was with her husband said: “It’s not fair that they have old people here waiting and they not telling us anything. But we seeing people just come and get through one time. It’s because they know somebody inside. We keep seeing people coming and going and we’re still here.”
At 2.30 p.m., the staff member indicated the health centre would close off at 4 p.m. for the day and those still waiting to be vaccinated would have to come back another day.
He also told people they could schedule to visit another health centre today.
One woman replied: “I catch my tail to come here, much less Couva. I pay a driver with all that rain to come here. They must be mad.”
Others voiced their concerns with that suggestion as they said it would only carry over the backlog to today.
One man said: “What sense does that make? So if all these people don’t get through, you want us to come back in the morning? So what happened to all the people who already scheduled for tomorrow morning? They will also have to wait for hours like us?”
Another concern some of the patients had was the growing crowd, with little social distancing observed. One man said: “This is the same thing shut down the food carts for, not so? They have all these people clustered outside here at the same time. They putting our lives in danger.”