Public servants register to take their covid19 vaccines at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts in San Fernando on Monday. – AYANNA KINSALE
ALTHOUGH Shivana Rampersad was at the Southern Academy for Performing Arts (SAPA) in San Fernando on Monday to get vaccinated, she had little enthusiasm about being there.
Instead, Rampersad, a public servant, said if she did not submit her immunisation card to her office payroll department, she would not get paid.
Rampersad told Newsday, “I’m here to get it to go to work, because if I don’t get it (the vaccine), I wouldn’t get paid. The vaccination card is going to payroll, and if I don’t send it, I’m not getting paid.”
On December 18, the Prime Minister announced that all public servants and employees at state agencies, including National Security, will be required to be vaccinated by January 15, or stay home without pay.
Clarifying this issue at a subsequent press conference on December 22, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi warned that being furloughed does not constitute an indefinite unpaid leave. As such, any public servant could be fired if they refuse to be vaccinated without medical exemption, after a defined period.
On Monday, SAPA started dedicating two lines to public servants like Rampersad to get their jabs.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced the special lines on December 29 and said this was intended to make the vaccination process easier for public servants.
Apart from this, Deyalsingh said the Government Campus Plaza in Port of Spain has been set up as a vaccination site solely for public servants.
When Newsday visited SAPA around 9.15 am, there were fewer than ten public servants, including Rampersad, using the lines. One official told Newsday there was a stream of public servants when the site opened at 8 am, but the numbers weren’t sustained.
Another public servant, Princes Town resident Tyrese Modeste, shared Rampersad’s muted enthusiasm, but unlike her, he didn’t feel he had been compelled to take the shot. Modeste said, “Me taking it was based upon my personal conviction but I don’t feel like I was forced to take it.”
While there were few public servants, there was a stream of other people visiting SAPA to get various vaccines. Nurse Tenika Serrette accompanied her 15-year-old son Kazim Serrette to get his first Pfizer injection.
She told Newsday, “He wanted to come out and get it done, because he wanted to feel a little safer going back out physically to school.
“I will tell other parents that it is their personal choice, but if the child wants to get vaccinated, the parent should not stop them from doing it.”
Speaking Monday at his ministry’s covid19 news conference on the issue of public servants being vaccinated, Deyalsingh said he was happy to report an increase in the numbers getting the shot from the end of 2021 and continuing into this year.
Optimistic that public sector workers are amongst those being vaccinated, he reiterated that additional sites have been made available for these workers to be vaccinated.
Deyalsingh was hopeful 2022 will see 50 per cent and more of the population being fully vaccinated.
“As I reported last week, there has been an uptick of first doses. We started to see figures like 1,400 per day, which is the two Pfizer, Sinopharm and J&J (Johnson & Johnson) (vaccines).
“We are averaging now, since last week…1,400, 1,500, 1,600 per day. Those figures we have not seen since the middle of October (2021).”
While this is a good sign, Deyalsingh said, “We could do a lot better.”
He was unable to break this data down into public sector workplaces and the covid19 vaccination status of workers there.
Asked about an instruction from the Police Social and Welfare Association for officers not to disclose their covid19 vaccination status to the police service, Deyalsingh said that question should be directed to the National Security Ministry.
Up to December 31, Deyalsingh said 668,982 people are on their way to being fully vaccinated. He estimated this was 47.8 per cent of TT’s population and hoped if current vaccination trends continue, that will soon cross 50 per cent.
To date, 76,479 people have received covid19 boosters.
“These 76,000-odd persons now have the possible maximum level of immunity that can be provided by vaccination,”
Deyalsingh said. “That is very good for them and I am very happy for that.”
The current booster rollout ends later this week. Deyalsingh said people who may have missed their turn in the current rollout for different reasons can still receive their shots.
(Additional reporting by CLINT CHAN TACK)