Public servants are slowly trickling into vaccination sites ahead of the government’s deadline of January 14.
Many say they do not have a choice, and at least one said she could not afford to listen to union leader Ancel Roget and remain unvaccinated.
The Prime Minister declared last month that all public servants must begin the vaccination process by January 15 or be furloughed.
The move has drawn widespread condemnation from trade unionists, including Roget, president general of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), who called on unvaccinated workers to return to work as usual.
On Thursday, at the vaccination site dedicated to public servants at the Government Campus Plaza on Richmond Street, Port of Spain, one worker from the Ministry of Education said she had only taken the vaccine because she could not afford to be unemployed.
“I have to work, I have children to see about and I cannot afford to not be employed.
"What the government is doing is forcing us to take it by taking away our bread and butter, so we don’t have a choice. So they’re encouraging you in one voice to take it, but telling you you have to take it or else (you lose your job), you understand? That’s the only reason why the majority of us taking it." Commenting on Roget's call, she said, “Mr Roget could say Christ could come tomorrow, because when I am out of a job, Mr Roget is not paying my bills or giving me any money – and Mr Roget is vaccinated, as well.
"So I don’t have time with Mr Roget or the union as well. I have to safeguard and see about myself and my children. It might seem selfish, but that’s what it is.”
She explained she had not gone for the vaccine before because she had serious concerns about it.
“I don’t call it a vaccine, I call it an experimental drug, because it doesn’t give you immunity. So if it doesn’t give you immunity and you can still catch covid, it means it doesn’t work. And if it doesn’t work, why would I take something that doesn’t work?”
A co-worker said her concerns were similar and she felt her hand had been forced.
“Honestly, I am not anti-vaxx, I just didn’t want the vaccine. That’s why we took so long and didn’t get vaccinated before. I was just waiting, waiting, waiting. Every day you hear something new and something changes in this country. Every day the Ministry of Health coming with something new.
"So I said I would wait and see, you know, and then the Prime Minister came with this, saying that if public servants don’t get vaccinated and all this nonsense, and work, said on the 17th we wouldn’t be able to come into the building.
“But they feel comfortable taking bread from people mouth and from people children, eh, that’s nonsense.
"I can’t afford to be unemployed, and you see with covid19 it have no jobs, so I can’t say I’ll leave, because any job you go for, even if you leave, you still have to be vaccinated to get a new job. So we have no choice.”
At the Paddock at the Queen’s Park Savannah, a woman who asked only to be referred to as Stephanie said she didn’t have a choice about taking the vaccine, as she needed it for her job at the National Maintenance Training and Security Company (MTS).
“I have to submit proof of vaccination to go back to work.
"I didn’t get it before because I was afraid. I was told there were different side effects. But people are saying it’s only if you have comorbidities, and so far I don’t have any, so hopefully everything will be good.
"I took the Pfizer because they told me it was the strongest one, and you don’t need the booster.”
An administrator from the North-West Regional Health Authority head office said she had come to get her second shot, as she had only made up her mind to get the vaccine in December. She said she had had no side effects following the injection.
Guardian Group employee Afilah said she had come to get her first shot because she’d been told she couldn’t come back to work if she didn’t get vaccinated.
“I feel hurt because I still was confused on which one to take, because this one was saying, 'Take this one,' ' Take that one,' 'If you take this one you can’t go foreign,' 'If you take this one you can go anywhere all over the country' – so I was just confused.
"I ended up taking the Sinopharm. It was a frightening experience. The nurses were ok, although they were like, 'Get your thing and go,' like normal.”
Rehana Khan, along with her 12-year-old son Santana Rampersad and her brother Shazad Khan, all came to get their first dose of the vaccine. Rehana said they made the choice so they could move forward.
“We’re moving forward because we want to. Remember, you have to work, I want to be able to go out there to work. My son has to go to school and we want to keep the family and everybody safe, and we’re doing it for TT too.”
Santana said he was ok with taking the vaccine. “I feel good but the needle, it was just kinda coldish. I’m looking forward to going back to school.”
Retiree Steven Dempster, who got his booster shot, said the process at the Paddock was simple and straightforward and took about 20 minutes. He said the continued high numbers of cases was cause for concern.
“The fact is that we have to look not only what is happening in Trinidad but worldwide, and probably try to do what is best for us as a people. rather than taking sides and opposing for opposing’s sake. This is one time that it calls for unity in the approach to dealing with something. and we need that more than ever right now.”
At the Hasely Crawford Stadium, a steady stream of cars was seen going through the site. As at the other two sites visited, the intake was described as slow and steady.