Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has labelled the launch of Trinidad and Tobago’s COVID-19 vaccination programme a success.
“It has been a successful launch. We started, as we have always said, with those high-exposure, high-risk persons who happen to be healthcare workers. To date, we have vaccinated four hundred and forty healthcare workers,” Deyalsingh said during Monday’s virtual press conference on the country COVID-19 status.
The Health Minister noted that the figure represents about 40 per cent of the possible 1,000 persons that can be vaccinated after just four days since the programme commenced.
He said of the 440 healthcare workers, 34 were from the Tobago Health Authority, 293 from the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), and 113 from the South West Regional Health Authority.
“What we are doing now…all the RHAs have started an internal campaign with their healthcare workers so we can move to the target of having one thousand healthcare workers vaccinated in the shortest possible space of time.”
He said the NCRHA, which manages three of the four COVID facilities at the Couva, Caura and Arima hospitals, had their internal symposium with their healthcare workers on Saturday, while the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) begins theirs today.
“So all RHAs are engaging their internal staff to really ramp up this issue of vaccine acceptance, and we’re quite pleased with the numbers so far,” Deyalsingh.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the Ministry of Health has taken a three-prong approach to securing COVID-19 vaccines.
He said following the signing of an agreement with the COVAX Facility on September 18 last year and the down payment of TT$10 million, leading to the allocation of between 100,000-120,000 AstraZeneca vaccine, due to be delivered by March 21, the Government was engaged in bi-lateral discussions with vaccine suppliers Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Moderna and Sanofi since October 1, last year, and thirdly, they made use of a CARICOM initiative where Trinidad and Tobago is registered as a purchaser of vaccines via the African Medicine Council.
He noted that once the vaccines arrive at Piarco International Airport they have to be consigned to the broker, who would then ensure they are cleared within 24 hours before being taken to a designated COVID-19 storage facility.
“The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, and again, stored at two to eight degrees Celsius.”
Parasram said the country currently has the capacity to store 390,000 vaccines, with NIPDEC and the Arima General Hospital accounting for 120,000 each, with the Point Fortin Hospital (100,000) and the Tobago’s County Medical Officer of Health (50,000) accounting for the rest.
He added that a chiller is currently under construction at the Couva Hospital and Multi-Training Facility which will provide an additional capacity of 400,000.
Vaccine shelf life
“With the initial AstraZeneca we’re looking at an upward limit of six months. If we include from the point of delivery it would take us down to anywhere between four and five months from when we get the vaccine, so they need to be used fairly quickly.”
Stating that based on new advice from the World Health Organisation, the second dose of this vaccine should be administered some eight to twelve weeks after the first dose, Deyalsingh noted that in Phase 2 of the country’s vaccination programme, which is the mass vaccination drive, only citizens aged 18 and older will be vaccinated as the WHO has not approved the use of the vaccines for persons under the age of 18.
“As well in Trinidad, we’re not going to give it to pregnant women and breastfeeding women at this time,” Parasram said.