Long Lines

POINTING THE WAY : An employee at the Barataria Health Centre speaks with members of the public who lined up to receive their vaccine at the center yesterday. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Frustrated over their failure to get Covid-19 vaccines yesterday, thousands of walk-ins left in disgust, shook their heads in disbelief, burst into expletives and argued with medical and security personnel on duty.

They traded their woeful stories, queried vaccine logistics, decided to return another day, or wrote their names and contact information on the registration sheets in anticipation of a call.

This fiasco was duplicated at health centres in Diego Martin, Carenage, Morvant and Barataria, which fall under the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA).

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, who has since apologised for underestimating the overwhelming demand for vaccines, came in for severe tongue lashing. People said the images which unfolded were reminiscent of people turning up for hampers or cheques at non-governmental organisations (NGOS) and ministries.

At some health centres, people were told they could only accommodate about 200 to 300 people with numbers.

At the Barataria Health Centre, a health official gave the figure at 300. People were told priority was being given to people over 60, and people with co-morbidities such as diabetes and cancer.

As people surveyed the scenes, consensus was there was misinformation, lack of communication, and mistreatment of the ill and elderly. Elderly citizens had to stand for tedious hours in the punishing sunshine. People also said they arrived at the centres as early as 5 a.m., and waited for about three to four hours before they were informed they could not get vaccines. Throngs of Venezuelans, who had joined the queues at Carenage, said they would return “Mañana (tomorrow)”. At Barataria, eyewitnesses said there was a large presence of Venezuelans.

Diego Martin Health Centre

Outside Diego Martin Health Centre, people sheltered under brollies, or stood waiting to enter the facility. A few wheelchair-bound people got help from family, or sought the shade of trees. Inside, a large number of people, including hijab-clad women, were seeking medical attention.

An irate gentleman, who refused to give his name, said: “I am 66. It’s my first attempt to get the vaccine. I came up to gate. Now they are telling me, it’s about ‘first come; first served’. I waited here for hours. There is a lot of misinformation.”

A security guard calmly explained it she was just the messenger, adding if she had a choice, she would not have reported to work.

Accountant Nardia Rampersad, 53, arrived at 5.45 a.m., and got number 123 around 9.30 a.m. She left around 12.30 p.m. after getting her first shot of Sinopharm. She will take the second vaccine on June 30.

Carenage nurses ‘overwhelmed’

St James residents June Cassie, 77, her daughter Suzanne Cassie, 50, and daughter-in-law Carol Edwards, 68, said their first pit-stop was at the Queen’s Park Savannah but they were administering the second dose of AstraZeneca, so they used their initiative and headed to Carenage where they hoped to get their maiden shots of Sinopharm. Casting her eye in the direction of an elderly man who sitting on a curb wall, while someone sheltered him. Edwards added: “It’s not fair that young and strong people are getting the vaccines. They should do something for the elderly. They have worked hard all their lives. They have served this country well. We should implement a proper system for them.”

In a telephone interview yesterday, Suzanne Cassie shared her experience: “I am back at Carenage. Around 11 a.m., they took our names and told us to come back. Some people braved the rains, and got tended to. But now that we are here they said the nurses are tired and can’t go anymore. They are overwhelmed. They are focusing on the 3 p.m. crowd.”

Disappointed at Barataria

Under-60s including Barataria resident Karen Alleyne, 42, Anthony Peters, 52, and, Gillian Pemberton. 47, said they desperately needed to get vaccines to return to work. The 300-plus queue snaked from Seventh Street to Eighth Street yesterday.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Alleyne said: “The nurse apologised and told me to come back Monday. She said the focus was on the elderly from 60 and up tomorrow. She said don’t bother to come on Friday. By that time, they would have treated senior citizens.”

She added: “People got there since 5 a.m., and the centre did not open till 8 a.m. At first, they wore their masks and social distanced. But then people were getting frustrated. People were getting weak. One lady almost fainted. People were interested. A high degree of vaccine acceptance. But they did not know the procedure. We were not properly informed.” Meanwhile, at Petit Valley Health Centre, on Simeon Road, a security guard said everything went smoothly. “We started at 8 a.m. We saw about 50 people. But I understand it’s chaos at Diego Martin,” she said.