Fitzgerald Hinds

 National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds says there’s no secrecy surrounding a small gift of Pfizer vaccines given to the National Security Ministry by the United States government.

In a telephone interview with the Express yesterday, the minister said the small vaccine gift of 80 vials of Pfizer amounted to about 400 doses of the vaccine.

However, the arrival of these vaccines generated curiosity in the country as to exactly how the batch came to Trinidad and the handover process as well as who exactly will benefit from the shots.

The Pfizer vaccine is considered one of the best vaccines with the highest efficacy rate against the Covid-19 virus but this is under review.

There are five doses of vaccines in each vial which means that there is a total of 400 doses in the 80 vials.

The Pfizer vaccine is given in two shots 21 days apart, therefore 200 people will benefit from the 400 doses.

Hinds told the Express the vaccines are specifically for the National Security Ministry.

“It is 80 vials,I think that amounts to about 400 vaccines which the United States government gave to the Ministry of National Security. This has nothing to do with any large donation that we expect that is being considered by the United States government. This is just a small number for the Ministry of National Security as a gift which we are happy to accept,” he said.

Asked about claims by social activist Phillip Alexander that Customs and Excise was unaware of the vaccine donation, Hinds responded: “Certainly not. He has to be ignored. I don’t take him seriously and there is no such issue of secrecy which is why we are saying to you that we received 80 vials, 400 in total, for the use and benefit of National Security. It has nothing to do with any larger amount that we might be negotiating otherwise.”

Two releases

Questioned on how would the National Security Ministry determine who gets these vaccines within the ministry, Hinds said, “This is for the Ministry of National Security and it will be used accordingly. This was offered as a gift to Ministry of National Security and we are thankful for it.”

Asked whether he was vaccinated, Hinds said he received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine a few weeks ago and he is awaiting his second shot.

While the minister provided details as to the quantity of Pfizer vaccines donated there was sparse information in two releases issued by the National Security Ministry about the donation.

The release of information about vaccines has usually been issued by the Health Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The first release from the National Security Ministry indicated that “Government” received a small donation of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from the United States on Saturday.

“The Government of T&T wishes to advise that yesterday, Saturday, June 12, 2021, it received a gift of Pfizer vaccines from the government and people of the United States of America,” it stated.

“We have been very fortunate to have received gifts of vaccines from different countries such as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados, Bermuda, the Republic of India, the People’s Republic of China and now the

United States,” it added.

The release stated that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is thankful and remains most appreciative for these gifts at this particular time and it looks forward to the continued good relations with its regional and international partners.

A second release was issued just under two hours later by the ministry.

The wording was changed to reflect that the donation is specifically for the National Security Ministry.

“The Ministry of National Security wishes to advise that it has accepted a small donation of Pfizer vaccines from the government of the United States of America for use by National Security.

“This donation is much appreciated and indicates the continued working relationship between the Ministry of National Security and the Government of the United States of America,” stated the release.

State Department letter?

Further questions about the US vaccine donation were raised following the online circulation of a purported US State Department letter giving permission to a travelling medical officer to bring into T&T 80 vials of the Pfizer vaccines.

The letter purportedly issued by the United States Department of State Bureau of Medical Services is signed by a medical officer.

It is not specifically addressed to anyone but States “to whom it may concern”.

The letter named a US Department of State officer travelling from New York to Trinidad and Tobago as the person authorised to carry the following vaccinations and supplies for official use:

80 vials of Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine

400, 1 ml syringes

1100 vials vaccine diluent

The letter stated that questions and concerns can be addressed by the US Department of State.

The Express contacted the US Embassy for comment but has not yet received an official response.

UNC awaits clarification

The United National Congress (UNC)yesterday issued a statement claiming that the National Security Ministry only issued its releases about the Pfizer donation after circulation of the purported US State Department letter.

“We await clarification from the US Embassy on this matter. However, things are not adding up,” stated the UNC.

It asked the following questions:

*Why was this not announced Saturday during the press conference?

*Where does this fit into the vaccination roll out as outlined by the Minister of Health?

* Who is going to receive these 80 vials of Pfizer vaccines, while the government tells citizens to take the vaccine in front of them?

“The country simply cannot trust Keith Rowley to acquire a sufficient number of vaccines and distribute them efficiently and equitably to the entire population of Trinidad and Tobago. Is this Keith Rowley’s vaccine apartheid?” stated UNC public relations officer Dr Kirk Meighoo.

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