Situation prompts questions about the planning behind the ongoing Covid-19 immunisation campaign
Despite scepticism and concerns over the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination centres in Muscat have been seeing large turnouts of individuals of target groups. Huge crowds continue to build up outside vaccination centres which has left many asking for a quick solution as the numbers swell in soaring temperatures awaiting their turn to be immunised.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) is continuing a nationwide vaccination campaign for the second dose of some target groups as well as the first dose for government employees. Muscat Daily witnessed a good turnout of people awaiting their turn in the vaccination centres in Muscat – a good sign of vaccine acceptance – but also an indication of the urgent need for proper conduct of the immunisation drive in the country.
“As the country tries to vaccinate the maximum number of people, it’s important to use the available data of all those willing to be vaccinated, and contact those specifically interested and schedule appointments. The best solution to avoid crowds is to create a platform for people, and they will be able to find suitable slots – locations, date and time – and proceed accordingly,” Khalid al Taie, a self-employed entrepreneur, told Muscat Daily.
“That said, people working in companies have proved that such a process succeeds. Vaccination centres can open everywhere, not just health centres. It can be at SQU for students and faculty, and shopping malls for visitors and employees,” he added.
Taie believes the government can conduct the immunisation campaign for Omani citizens without engaging private hospitals. “We are in a pandemic; we will need to work extra hours to fight the coronavirus. Clearly, it is not enough to work until lunchtime to vaccinate people. We can always extend hours until evening. We can work on the weekends; volunteers are here to help and everyone else is willing to help,” he said.
Those concerned about the situation have raised questions about the planning behind the vaccination drive given the fact that there was ample time to plan. Hanan Askalan, managing partner at iAngelME, an early stage tech investments and advisory firm, asked, “How will we meet our vaccination targets if key centres, such as Bausher stadium, run out of vaccines by 1.15pm instead of operating until late? By now we should have already prepared for 12-15 hours daily in all public health centres. We had time to prepare.”
Hanan urged authorities to use the national database to schedule vaccinations. “We have our national database with everybody’s IDs. Why isn’t this used to schedule vaccination based on set categories? The system will be able to distribute people based on address and nearest centres and manage centre capacities. Every eligible citizen and resident has mobile phones these days. It is a basic automation process and such systems are available and may be customised. Again, we had time to get ready.”
“Why are we differentiating based on work – private or public outside the medical field? Omanis in the public sector are not more exposed than Omanis in the private sector. All this is creating confusion and frustration. Involving private clinics and the private sector to start vaccinating is a sound approach but expense on the private sector should be addressed with tax exemptions – for most companies this is not a small expense after more than a year of business stagnation. This will push everyone to embrace it and get it done. Again, time is of the essence,” she added.
Hanan is worried the current approach will make vaccination centres yet another source of spread of the virus. “This will also deter people from getting vaccinated. I personally made a U-turn three times so far. I will not go into such crowded places. This again will delay the country from opening up and getting back to normal. It’ll have serious economic and social implications. At this stage, getting ourselves out of this critical pandemic within a maximum of three months is our utmost national priority.”
A young man who was at the Bausher vaccination centre with his mother in a wheelchair, said, “It is a very unorganised way of running a vaccination drive. I suggest an online registration process; the appointment can be sent via a mobile or email alert with the time slot mentioned. In this way, there will be less problem with crowding and parking.”
He said such a process will be easy for senior citizens. “It’s the peak of summer and such steps are necessary for easy, fast and smooth flow of work. My mother is touching 60 and is in wheelchair. It is painful to take her in this heat and wait for her turn, even if security has been fast in taking her in. I see many senior men and women who are standing in the heat. The online registration is a must to streamline the process,” he added.
The other wilayats too have been witnessing large turnouts. Dr Talal al Khawaldi, head of the vaccination centre in Khabourah, said, “Turnout of individuals from target groups has been excellent since the first day.”
Volunteers have also been on hand to help when required. Dr Abdullah bin Khalid al Salmi, head of the Supervising Committee of the Immunisation Campaign in the wilayat of Suwaiq, said, “We appreciate the role of the retired healthcare workers who took the initiative to participate as volunteers.”
Khamis al Jaafari, a citizen keen to be vaccinated, said, “Vaccination centres should work around the clock. I hope the authorities open more centres, including the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre which is more spacious. More vaccination centres will speed up the immunisation process.”
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health announced that a vaccination centre will open in Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre starting June 20, 2021. Vaccines will be administered 8am to 2pm and 3pm to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, and 4pm to 9pm on Friday and Saturday. The ministry will announce a registration mechanism for the centre soon.
As many as 535,578 individuals – 15 per cent of the total target groups – have been vaccinated in the sultanate since the launch of the National Immunisation Campaign against COVID-19 until June 15, 2021. The total number of recipients of the first dose is 350,957, or 66 per cent of the total vaccinated, while those who got both doses is 184,621.