TEETHING problems are to be expected in the State’s covid19 vaccination programme. However, the Ministry of Health needs to be more proactive in how it caters to the elderly.
And it needs to do a better job of communicating to members of the public, of whatever age.
The ministry should be lauded for surpassing its target of 1,000 jabs a day on Tuesday.
But scenes of people congregating outside health centres and the reports of dozens of senior citizens turning up and waiting for hours left a lot to be desired.
It is obvious that many people are unclear about where they stand in the current order of precedence for a vaccine.
The ministry is dealing with healthcare workers and those 60 and older with non-communicable diseases (NCD) who attend public health clinics.
Others with NCDs may also make appointments to get the vaccine.
The ministry has said it will contact patients in clinics, but this has been spotty. It has also urged patients to make appointments, but people calling hotlines have been met with busy signals.
Lots of elderly people seem confused about how or where to sign up.
Adding to the confusion, even nurses have reportedly given seniors incorrect information. Such seniors may not have ready access to the ministry’s website.
We recommend the state devise a specific strategy to deal with the vaccination of those 60 and over. The focus should be on going to seniors, not making them line up and wait for hours.
This strategy could involve several components. Firstly, the ministry should vaccinate people in care homes, including those with mobility issues who may be unable to attend health facilities. While we have been relatively lucky in that deaths in these facilities are not known to be as high as elsewhere, international experience shows that such homes are potential hotbeds of infection for covid19.
Secondly, regional health authorities should be more proactive in contacting elderly people in clinics known to them. They should take in front and avoid misunderstanding.
Thirdly, the ministry should engage the co-operation of churches, religious bodies and community organisations in order to reach elderly people who may not be in clinics but who are nonetheless eligible. The state can also draw on census data in order to pinpoint priority groups.
While seniors are having trouble getting through, children who are not eligible seem to be having no such problems. According to Tobago health officials, parents have been trying to register their children for vaccination, even though the state is currently following world health guidance, which has not advised children or pregnant women be inoculated.
The ministry must do more than just issuing statements and hoping for the best. In addition to adding phone lines, there needs to be a robust, dedicated team of trained officials reaching out to citizens, fielding queries, and bolstering confidence in the process.