The Prime Minister’s attempt at damage control following the Health Minister’s insult to Barbados’ donation of 2,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to this country has further confused the issue.
On one hand, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh says he was “misinformed” that the vaccines were a gift from the government of India with Barbados merely being the central depository for distribution. On the other hand, and presumably to explain how his minister came to be in the dark about Barbados’ “gift gesture”, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the offer was made to him and not to the Minister of Health.
It is hard to decide which is worse: Minister Deyalsingh’s initial vehement denial that the vaccines were a gift from our Caricom neighbour or Dr Rowley’s failure to communicate Barbados’ offer of an early shipment of vaccines to his Health Minister, resulting in Wednesday’s embarrassing gaffe and subsequent apology to Barbados.
It is hard to fathom how Minister Deyalsingh could have been so clueless about the details surrounding the country’s first shipment of the eagerly-awaited Covid-19 vaccines, especially since the information had been widely disseminated by the media. Indeed, many persons viewed PM Mottley’s announcement of the gift to T&T live on social media within minutes of her receiving the shipment on the tarmac at Grantley Adams International Airport. With Barbados reeling under a wave of infections, PM Mottley was effusive in her gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India who had sent 100,000 doses to Barbados and another 30,000 doses to Dominica. Both agreed to allocate a share of their supply to fellow Caricom countries.
What was remarkable to nationals viewing the excitement in Bridgetown was the fact that this country with its long relationship with India and an Indian diplomatic mission based in Port of Spain was not on the long list of countries to which India was donating the highly rated AstraZeneca vaccine which is being manufactured at the Serum Institute of India (SII). SII is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines based on the number of vaccines produced and sold globally.
We are glad to see that Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne is now on the case and has written to the Government of India requesting 250,000 vaccines for Trinidad and Tobago. If the request is met, it would significantly boost the supply of vaccines when added to the 100,000 doses expected in late March under the WHO’s Covax facility. If gifted, it would represent a healthy saving on vaccine expenditure.
However, no matter how the Government spins this particular aspect of its Covid-19 management, it has been disastrous. For reasons that are unclear, T&T has been caught flat-footed on a viable opportunity to secure a supply of vaccine even as it was assuring the public that it was diligently attempting to augment its Covax allocation through direct purchasing from manufacturers and through international organisations.
To add insult to self-injury, the government was ungracious to Barbados which was under no obligation to share its allotment with us. Somewhere at the very top of the government, something is not right.