Loyse Alleyne

Flashback, February 20: Loyse Alleyne, a registered nurse in the Accident and Emergency Department at Scarborough General Hospital, Tobago, receives the

Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. —Photo courtesy THA Communications Unit

The global battle for vaccines may cause major delays for small nations like Trinidad and Tobago in getting their populations inoculated.

While Government officials are hesitant to admit it, this country’s first shipment under the COVAX arrangement could be in ­trouble, given the worldwide scenario.

And while this country can rejoice over its low number of Covid-19 cases, a Government health official told the Sunday Express it can be a bittersweet reality for citizens, as T&T will not be prioritised and vaccines would instead go to countries that are seeing record numbers of cases and deaths.

The Ministry of Health reported three more Covid-19 cases yesterday, bringing the number of active positive cases to 96.

The Barbados Nation reported on March 5 that vaccines under COVAX will reach the region by May.

It stated that Barbados is among several countries in the Caribbean and Latin America in line to receive an allocation of a total of 28 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX, due to be delivered to the region by May.

The report stated that the announcement was made by director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne.

Etienne said some countries had already made necessary payments to receive the vaccine, and she encouraged member states to ensure they had the proper regulations in place and to make payments.

She also complained about “inequitable access” to vaccines globally, noting that “wealthy countries were rolling out vaccines, while many nations had yet to receive a ­single dose”.

The COVAX arrangement was set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Gavi Vaccines Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to try to prevent poorer countries from being pushed to the back of the queue.

The programme is designed so that richer countries buying vaccines also agree to help finance access for poorer nations.

It hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. In particular, it wants to ensure 92 poorer countries will receive access to vaccines at the same time as 98 wealthier countries.

On December 11, 2020, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley assured that all the preparations to receive Covid-19 vaccines have been made by the Government.

Responding to a question from Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal in the Parliament, Rowley said T&T in September 2020 signed up with COVAX and had already made a down-payment of US$1.477 million for vaccines.

He said the country had pre-ordered vaccines to cover 33 per cent of the population, or 461,000 people. This would cost $7 million.

He said then that once a vaccine is approved, T&T will receive in the first instance enough vaccine for 20 per cent of the population—that is 279,000 persons.

Last Tuesday Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said T&T is to receive a significantly increased supply of Covid-19 doses from the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).

This country, which was initially set to get 226,000 doses, will have a near doubling of this allocation to 426,000 from the AMSP.

“We are awaiting price estimates and estimated times of arrival,” Deyalsingh said in the Senate. These 426,000 doses are in addition to 108,000 doses that T&T is scheduled to receive via COVAX.

Deyalsingh said the 108,000 doses are expected to arrive by the end of March, the deadline given to T&T by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).

The AMSP, a single-source platform designed to achieve faster, more transparent and cost-effective access to Covid-19 supplies, has pre-ordered vaccines for 55 African Union member states.

Trinidad and Tobago has thus far received 2,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which were gifted by Barbados, which in turn had received 100,000 doses courtesy the government of India. Rowley has written to his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, seeking his assistance in accessing the AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured in India.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has also written to Modi, asking specifically for a vaccine gift.

On February 22, 2021, at the Health Ministry virtual news conference, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley noted the challenges taking place with the rush for vaccines. He said for smaller countries like T&T, accessing the vaccine directly from manufacturers was a challenge.

“If you were a small purchaser, you were not even listened to or entertained by the suppliers who were out there under the control of the bigger more powerful countries,” he said.

“So outside of COVAX, there was virtually no supply available to small countries like us,” he said.

Rowley said he hoped that suppliers who had committed to supply vaccines to ­COVAX would meet the March deadline for T&T to receive the first shipment of Oxford-­AstraZeneca vaccines.

Former health minister Dr Fuad Khan noted that the Prime Minister has indicated he is waiting until the country is 70 per cent inoculated before he opens the border.

“That is going to be a paranoid disaster because Trinidad and Tobago is not going to be 70-per cent inoculated in any time at all the way how attacks are going on worldwide,” he said.

“I believe this is going to be a very long haul because most of the world, they are fighting among each other for vaccines. I am quite certain that we will not be getting our vaccines in time to inoculate our population,” he added.

Khan quipped that T&T will have closed borders until 2025 if there is a wait for 70 per cent of the population to be vaccinated.

“We will be lagging behind countries who can afford it and who have better balance of payments with the countries who are making the vaccines,” he said.

“So we have to depend on countries who are going to give handouts. China, India and Russia are the ones we have to look forward to. Everybody wants to be first in line for marketing their vaccines and making billion of dollars,” he said.

He said Rowley and Persad-Bissessar should hold hands and go and visit Modi and ask him for enough vaccines to inoculate the population of T&T. “They should take a plane and go, and I hope that Stuart Young gives them an exemption,” said Khan.

He said this Covid-19 virus is “going to be forever because all viruses mutate and each year there are going to be new mutations, new fights, new vaccines and plenty more money to be made.”

Asked if he will take the vaccine, Khan responded, “I will take the vaccine, but it might be safer to get the virus and get ­lifelong ­immunity.”

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