(Trinidad Guardian) Trinidad and Tobago is among the Caribbean countries late to order COVID-19 vaccines.
T&T waited until the Indian-made vaccine received World Health Organisation (WHO) approval before reaching out for vaccination donations.
The Serum Institute in India received that accreditation in mid-February.
In an exchange with Guardian Media yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sought to clarify why T&T was behind countries like Barbados, Guyana and Dominica with regards to the roll-out of the vaccine.
On Wednesday before the media event to start the rollout of the vaccinations, Guardian Media messaged Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh asking about the 2,000 vaccines from Barbados and whether there were any purchase orders for the rest of the orders.
The Minister responded saying “as we have stated numerous times this is a gift. Free. Therefore no purchase order needed”.
Hours later, the Minister said that the vaccines from India were for the region and that Barbados was just the distribution hub.
By 10 pm that evening, he issued a clarification, reverting to what he had initially told Guardian Media, that the 2,000 vaccines were in fact a gift from Barbados and that he was “misinformed”.
According to a Caricom report, India was making some 500,000 vaccines available to the Caribbean, but Rowley, who is also head of Caricom said he had no idea what that was about.
There have also been reports in the Jamaican Gleaner about the 500,000 vaccines being offered to Caricom countries.
According to those reports, the Indian High Commissioner assigned to each country said that the distribution of the vaccines would start once the host country completed its approval process.
“I don’t know anything about any 500,000. As far as I am aware from my conversation with my colleague PM Mottley when the offer of vaccines were made to me we were talking about her gift of 50,000. It is from this 50,000 that she generously offered and I accepted 2,000,” Rowley said.
“Trinidad and Tobago has been in touch with India through our Foreign Ministry and the Indian High Commission here and those contacts have not revealed to me yet any gift batch of 500,000 vaccines from which we can draw,” he said.
Rowley is also defending his Health Minister amid calls for him to step down saying that Deyalsingh was not in communication with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, but that he was.
“Prime Minister (Mia Amor) Mottley of Barbados indicated to me (not the Minister of Health) that Barbados was offered 50,000 doses of a vaccine from India and that she was making a gift gesture of 2000 of these doses available to Trinidad and Tobago for “ essential persons” ( including PM and Cabinet),” he said.
“I accepted the offer knowing that not all suppliers of these products from India had received WHO clearance. I anticipated and it did come to pass that by the time we got the items and waited a while the WHO only recently certified the source supplier in India and thus we were able to use these vaccines, not on Cabinet but on our frontline health care givers,” he said.
Rowley said that the country’s national program is on track.
“Monies have been paid, local preparations have been made, orders and negotiations outside of the COVAX supply are currently underway and we are close to receiving and using our anticipated supply,” Rowley said.
“Vaccines are currently said to be available from many sources around the world, not all of which carry the quality assurance stamp of the WHO,” the Prime Minister said.
“It is up to individual governments to determine how they treat with the various sources and supply chains, Rowley said.
He said that in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, in order to protect the citizenry, the country will “maintain our policy of working within the COVAX, WHO and PAHO and expect to receive our safe quotas from myriad sources as soon as they become available”.