At 95 years old, Lionel Duncan knows contracting COVID-19 could be fatal for him, so he joined hundreds of senior citizens at the La Romaine Health Centre for a shot of the Sinopharm vaccine.
The vaccines donated by China last month is in high demand.
Regional health authorities reported an over subscription for appointments in May.
Monday’s rollout of walk-in vaccinations showed chaotic scenes as people ignored social distancing protocols and crowded the gates of health centres.
An apology by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh preceded an immediate change of policy for yesterday’s vaccinations with only the elderly whose surnames began with letters A-E being eligible. But even that created disappointment, frustration and discomfort.
Duncan withstood severe hip pain as he stood in line for two hours, only to be told that there were not enough vaccines and that he would have to try again.
At health centres around south Trinidad, the staff informed patients that they were only vaccinating between 40 and 50 people.
There were hundreds of senior citizens, their children and caretakers waiting outside the La Romaine, Marabella, Ste Madeleine, Penal and Siparia health centre from as early as 5 am.
A rejected Duncan told Guardian Media that he has arthritis, which prevents him from standing too long. His daughter Caren said the security issued her a chit with the number 51 and told her to wait.
“Then they cut down to 40. They said they only had forty vaccines, so we have to come back another day. I do not know what it would be like tomorrow. Of course, this is very frustrating,” Caren said.
One man in Marabella paced around feverishly, trying to get health personnel to address his complaint that although he arrived early and was in the first 50 people in line, he got bypassed. It happened when a security officer issued chits, some to people she knew. Many in Marabella and Ste Madeleine again expressed frustration at the process, especially as some came for the second day and could not get vaccinated.
“You tell us to come here, based on our last names, but you only have 50 vaccines? Did you expect only 50 people to show up? You are not giving sufficient information about how we should get this,” a man said.
As they looked at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella, some questioned why the Government was not recruiting staff and volunteers to have mass vaccination sites and drive-thru services.
While a few people prepared for the wait by walking with folding chairs, it was hard for those who use canes to stand for hours. Some sat on the roadside. Despite police on-site to ensure crowd control, there was no one enforcing social distancing rules.
There were sighs of relief and happiness for those fortunate enough to get the vaccines. Joan and Ajeer Bahadursingh were the first to arrive at the Marabella Health Centre at 5.10 am. When the ministry announced the policy change on Wednesday, they decided to try for the vaccine.
Ajeer said the service was “nice” and the people were good.
“Excellent” was how Joan described the service at the health centre but said she sympathised with those who got turned away.
The Presbyterian couple said they felt relieved after getting the vaccine and was looking forward to churches reopening. They are encouraging other church members to get the vaccine.