THE CHAOTIC, distressing scenes all over the country at health facilities this week were a mixed omen about the State’s covid19 vaccination programme. It was both good news and bad.
On the one hand, vaccine demand is healthy.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Health’s administration is not.
What was supposed to be an exercise to protect people degenerated into a spate of potential superspreader events. Thousands of elderly people (and misguided others) had to line up for hours. Many braved rain and were still turned away.
So serious was the issue even Speaker of the House of Representatives Bridgid Annisette-George was moved on Wednesday afternoon to grant leave to the Opposition for an urgent evening debate of the issue, at a time when Parliament’s hours of operation have been circumscribed for the safety of all.
It is not difficult to see how the ministry might have fallen into error by underestimating demand.
In previous phases of the vaccination programme, there were reports of appointments not being kept. Many eligible recipients changed their mind owing to rumour and conjecture over cases in which individuals who received the jab later died, notwithstanding the science and the lack of conclusive links.
But what the ministry has no excuse for is making the same mistake twice.
Since the very start of the inoculation drive, the State has underestimated demand. Earlier this year, members of the public were told they could go to health facilities to make appointments. But when they did, officials were unprepared and mix-ups ensued.
Then too, initially, eligible people were told to call a hotline – which soon buckled under the pressure – to book appointments. More phone lines were added and then came a mobile phone messaging system.
But has anyone considered that many people over 60 do not use or have access to such mobile phone tools? Does this help explain Wednesday's rush?
Officials should have foreseen the numbers. The recent spike in deaths and the calling of a state of emergency have clearly fomented a fervent desire on the part of the population to get this entire ordeal behind us through getting the jab.
The mystery, therefore, is: on what basis is the ministry estimating demand for vaccines? Whatever methodology it is using is not working.
Even if the ministry’s ability to diagnose the mood was simply off, it is hard to comprehend why, once things began to unravel on Wednesday, no effective action was taken to address the low levels of supply at facilities.
The problems continued even when the pool was streamlined alphabetically on Thursday: there were fewer people, but fewer vaccines still.
After apologising on Wednesday for the fiasco, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said there were lessons to be learned. Clearly nothing was learned between Wednesday and Thursday.