TRINIDAD and Tobago is today expected to receive 40,000 Covishield Covid-19 vaccines gifted by the government of India, with which the T&T Government may launch another phase of its public inoculation programme.
The shipment would be the second tranche of vaccines to arrive in the country within a fortnight, as the Ministry of Health welcomed 33,600 Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines via the United Nations COVAX facility on March 30.
The vaccines’ arrival was preceded by political baggage that caused national conversation, after the Government was accused of seemingly refusing to approach India for a donation while Caricom countries including Barbados had received enough vaccines from India to launch a programme at a time when they were locking down due to surges in Covid-19 cases.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar became involved, writing to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi for vaccines and stating that T&T was in a Covid-19 crisis.
This after months of vaccine pressure, with the population and business community questioning the Government since the start of 2021 as to why it had, up to last week, not managed to bring in enough doses to launch a public immunisation drive.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was forced to defend Government against accusations that race had played a part and later disclosed he had communicated with Modi on the issue. He also said India High Commissioner to T&T, Arun Kumar Sahu, had denied knowledge of any India vaccine donation programme to the Caribbean when approached, while Sahu rebutted that he was never asked.
Diplomatic tensions arose over the exchange and the matter was eventually mediated by Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne.
Sahu stated last week that the tranche was on track to arrive today and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh last week praised the High Commissioner for his role in securing a donation for Trinidad and Tobago.
The precedent was set last Tuesday for the process by which the vaccines are received, stored and disbursed with the arrival of the COVAX tranche.
The vaccines are received under heavy security and under the presence of the relevant medical personnel. They are then transported to storage facilities in Couva and Chaguaramas, before being disseminated for public issuance through the 21 vaccination sites around the country.
Last Tuesday’s roll-out was followed by some hiccups caused mostly by a bigger-than-expected public response, with the hotlines provided by the Ministry of Health either being reported jammed, inaccessible or going unanswered.
The public complained, which was mostly visible on social media, and Government was criticised for not being prepared by establishing a wider central system to receive appointment requests.
Health Minister Deyalsingh and the ministry acknowledged the “teething” problems and last week said the system to book vaccination appointments was being expanded.
This is to include more telephone hotlines, an online system, and a WhatsApp feature.
The current tranche of vaccines involved in the public drive is being consumed at just over 1,000 doses daily, the ministry has said.
Its expiry date is May 31 and when the tranche is half-issued, health officials, led by Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram, will decide whether the remainder will be used for the required second dose for persons who received one dose since the launch.
The second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was initially recommended within eight to 12 weeks but ongoing observation suggests that the first dose alone left the recipient well-protected against hospitalisation from Covid-19, even if the second dose is never administered.
The expiry date of the Indian vaccines is not yet known.