Terrence Deyalsingh

FAKE VACCINES: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday warned that the international market is now rife with “fake” Covid-19 vaccines.

The warning came as he continued to defend the Government against accusations that it dallied on securing the product for the population before international suppliers became overwhelmed.

Deyalsingh said Trinidad and Tobago has to be “very careful” in purchasing vaccines, as he reminded that there are channels to do so and that safe and efficient products cannot simply be purchased on the open market.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual Covid-19 news conference, Deyalsingh again said once the authorities are in possession of a purchase order for the first tranche of its public programme, set around 120,000 vaccines, this would be disclosed.

The minister said he wanted to alert the national population that T&T has to be “careful” and that while the public may hear the country was being offered vaccines, these had to be investigated.

“Some companies will not talk to you unless you can buy three million doses,” Deyalsingh said, adding that there was “no way” T&T needs, can store or can purchase three million vaccines at the same time.

“That is what is going on,” he said.

Deyalsingh said offers are passed on to contacts for local agents to begin the investigation process. The agents reach out to their security partners abroad and he said it has been found that “there are a lot of fake vaccines out there”. He noted a Time magazine report that one country had actually acquired and administered fake vaccines.

This was among the reasons that T&T has been “prudent” and will only use vaccines certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO), he said.

Deyalsingh was last week caught in a diplomatic gaffe that led to the Government being criticised for failing to seek vaccine donations from India, as did Barbados and Dominica. He had attributed 2,000 vaccines (covers 1,000 people at two doses each), gifted to T&T by Barbados, to a larger tranche he said was gifted to the region by India with Barbados as the conduit.

Deyalsingh later apologised for the error, clarifying that the vaccines were gifted to Barbados by India and 2,000 donated by the Barbadian government to T&T.

There was also criticism that the local authorities did not move fast enough to start bi-lateral talks to acquire vaccines outside the COVAX facility, a multi-service organisation of more than 180 member states through which the WHO sought to ensure global equity in pricing and distribution.

India a medicine partner

Deyalsingh said T&T was always in line to purchase Covid-19 vaccines from India and noted that a wide range of pharmaceuticals have for years been imported from that country, including for the public health system.

The Minister was noting some commentary that the Government was reluctant to buy from India.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who also addressed yesterday’s conference, criticised Caroni East MP Richard Seecheran for making statements to that effect and accused the MP of raising a racial “dog whistle”.

Deyalsingh said contrary to what was being said by “disruptive” people in society who “have a different agenda”, it was always the Government’s intention to purchase from India, under COVAX.

He said T&T’s first tranche of 120,000 will come from two WHO-authorised plants - The Serum Institute of India and a plant in South Korea.

Deyalsingh reported that the Government is so far “quite pleased” with the response to its Covid-10 vaccine roll-out for frontline healthcare workers but no date is available yet as to when the country’s first tranche for the wider public will arrive.

Barbados’ gift was intended for use by Government officials but was redirected to frontline workers facing Covid-19 head-on at local treatment centres.

“It has been a successful launch. We started, as we have always said, with those high-exposure, high-risk persons who happen to be healthcare workers. To date, we have vaccinated 440 healthcare workers,” the Minister said.

This represented about 44 per cent of the 1,000 frontliners that authorities hope will volunteer, four days since the programme started among Regional Health Authorities (RHAs).

Of the 440 vaccinated, 34 were from the Tobago Health Authority, 293 from the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA), and 113 from the South West Regional Health Authority.

“What we are doing now, all the RHAs have started an internal campaign with their healthcare workers so we can move to the target of having one thousand healthcare workers vaccinated in the shortest possible space of time,” Deyalsingh said.

Of 17,000 healthcare workers in T&T, 5,000 are considered frontliners in the Covid-19 battle.