Health Ministry to 'ramp up' covid19 vaccine hotlines after complaints

 Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards
Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards

AFTER many complaints about the hotlines for registering for the covid19 vaccine, the Health Ministry has said it will ramp up the system.

Because of the issues, it said, more people physically showed up at the vaccination sites than those who registered by phone.

On Tuesday, the start of a vaccination rollout programme saw some 1,153 people being given a first dose of the AstraZeneca covid19 vaccine, officials said at the ministry's virtual press conference on Wednesday .

The Covax supply of 33,600 doses is being used to continue vaccinating frontline medical workers and kickstarted vaccination of those 60 and older with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) who attend public health clinics.

Members of the public in the same category can make appointments to be vaccinated on non-clinic days, either online or by calling the respective hotline.

But several people complained about hotlines being busy or not working. Newsday called several of the hotlines and was greeted by busy tones.

This led to scores of people visiting the health facilities to register and even then, some seniors had to wait up to three hours to do so.

One elderly man in Diego Martin told Newsday, “This phone system is pathetic. How do they expect one hotline and one extension to deal with thousands of people? Now they have old people waiting in line for long periods of time for a chance to get registered. They need to address that immediately.”

Ministry representatives addressed the issue at the press conference, promising more phone lines will be added and that an online registration system is being considered.

Principal medical officer, institutions, Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards said the ministry is trying to increase the number of people operating these phone lines by Friday. She also said some new numbers were added on Wednesday morning and that physicians and nurses will be among some of the operators.

In addition, CEO of the North-Central Regional Health Authority Davlin Thomas said some changes would be in place by the end of the day.

"There will be other telephone numbers and persons will be able to call to assure they can have their appointments made, while we call our usual NCD patients to continue generating appointments for them.”

He said nearly 300 people have been calling each hotline daily, with nearly 300 also registering in person.

On the extended in-person waiting time, Abdool-Richards said representatives from all regional health authorities are on site to ensure things run smoothly. But she said the ministry has noted the complaints.

“The long wait time has been identified as a challenge, more so in some areas than others, and it’s really due to a high level of vaccine acceptance, which we look at as a positive out of the vaccine deployment process, and also based on the populations of the particular regional health authorities.”

She said that in Diego Martin, 600 people registered in person.

She added, “The ministry is also looking at an online system within the next week that will really increase the assigning of the vaccine and bring a more efficient system.”

She said the ministry held a review meeting on Monday evening "to identify the deficiencies, gaps and challenges."

She said it is a "learning process" for ministry staff and they are working on "ramping up training and staff to have better communication with members of the population."

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