The sudden passing of Senator Franklin Khan, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, has rattled the country.
Cabinet colleagues and friends who had spoken to him just hours before the news of his death broke yesterday morning described a man who seemed well and in good spirits. None has indicated, at least publicly, that he was in any medical distress. Even with Senator Khan’s history of heart disease and cardiac surgery, his death has come as a shock which would make his passing all the more painful for those closest to him. Our condolences go out to his wife Laura and their two children, as well as to his relatives, Government colleagues and friends.
Senator Khan served this country at Cabinet level for just over ten years and represented the constituents of Ortoire/Mayaro for five years in Parliament. He also embraced the responsibility of professional leadership as president of the Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago. We in the media knew him as an accessible public official and loyal soldier of the governments he represented and the political party he served at the level of chairman.
It was inevitable that Senator Khan’s unexpected death at the relatively young age of 63 would also stir anxiety among the wider population due to the fact that he had received the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday. While we make no connection between the vaccine and his death, it helps no one, especially the Ministry of Health, to ignore the potential impact of the sequence of events on public confidence, especially as Minister Khan’s death followed on the heels of the death of Ijaz Haniff, 60, who also had a history of heart disease, had undergone triple bypass surgery years ago, and died within days of taking the vaccine.
In that case, the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) displayed a knee-jerk defensiveness that served neither patient, the public nor itself when it declared that its preliminary clinical investigation found “no evidence” that Haniff’s condition was linked to the vaccine, and that any report of the contrary was “inaccurate and greatly misleading”. That position was later amended to say “at this stage”. The possibility of a causative link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clotting is the subject of major scientific study although it remains an extremely rare, one-in-a-million side effect. We await next week’s release of the haematologist’s report on Haniff’s case.
Yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram declined to address Senator Khan’s death, saying the matter will be handled by the Office of the Prime Minister and the line ministry. However, the medical issue is one that neither can address.
It should be noted, too, that Dr Parasram’s advice that persons with chronic health problems should seek their doctor’s advice prior to taking the vaccine is not captured in the ministry’s promotions inviting people 60 years and over with non-communicable diseases to get vaccinated.
While there is no doubt that the benefits far outweigh the risks, the health authorities must acknowledge the fear among some individuals and, especially now, must provide the public with the information to counter that fear and manage the risk.