It was inevitable that the national vaccine roll-out would fall victim to allegations of policy breaches and favouritism. Indeed, this newspaper warned about this when it repeatedly urged Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to publish a detailed roll-out plan accounting for the number of vaccine doses to be distributed.
What the public got instead was a generalised plan so unspecific that, at the end of the day, priority at-risk groups, including frontline personnel and the most elderly with non-communicable diseases, are almost guaranteed not to be vaccinated in the priority order that they should be.
With only 33,600 doses of vaccine to go around, this country does not have enough doses to meet even the needs of all persons 80 years and over with co-morbidities. This raises the question of why the ministry is gleefully inviting the hundreds of thousands of persons aged 60 and over with co-morbidities to make appointments for the vaccine, while the elderly and ailing are being told to wait until their scheduled appointment date. The ministry’s vaccine promotion has been highly successful, with some who are unable to get an appointment at health centres in their area making the trip to far-flung rural centres with low patient traffic.
Lost in the rush are the elderly with co-morbidities who are in public clinics and are being told they will get the vaccine on their regular clinic day. With an average of 1,600 doses per distribution centre, clinic patients need to be assured that vaccines will be available for them on their scheduled appointment dates and that they will not be told the allotment has been exhausted and so they must come back at their next clinic day. Bear in mind that clinic appointments can be months apart.
Logic should have suggested that all elderly clinic patients with co-morbidities be prioritised for the first batch, even if it meant contacting each patient directly for a special vaccine appointment.
As it stands now, demand has busted the gate wide open.
Yesterday, the Tobago House of Assembly responded to reports about the vaccine being given to non-priority Assembly persons, THA staff and others by releasing a policy which was completely at odds with the national vaccine roll-out plan.
According to the THA, while frontline workers and persons over 60 are a priority, it has decided to open up the process to all persons over 18 years “who are interested in taking the vaccine”.
The THA’s explanation for this abrupt deviation in policy is that once registration started, “it was recognised that at the pace of registration there would have been a challenge to administer all the doses by the expiry date” at the end of May.
The same reason is being offered at some health centres in Trinidad to explain why persons who are not in the highest priority category are receiving the vaccine.
The obvious response to this rationalisation is that a carefully designed roll-out programme would have scheduled priority individuals in the appropriate number on a daily basis, in line with the number of doses to be dispensed. Apparently, that was too challenging a task for the ministry.