Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the 2,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses received from Barbados will all be given out to frontline healthcare workers working in high-risk, high-exposure areas.
Distribution of the vaccines began yesterday at the Couva Multi-Training Hospital Facility.
Speaking at the Health Ministry's media briefing on Wednesday, he said the 2,000 doses will vaccinate 1,000 people, so it was essential that this first batch went to the highest-risk population.
He said some of the vaccines will be sent to the Tobago Regional Health Authority and should arrive today.
Deyalsingh said the vaccines arrived from Barbados last Wednesday but the World Health Organization (WHO) did not sign off on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccines until Monday.
“We are only using vaccines which have been approved by the WHO through a emergency use authorisation (EUA) or emergency use licence (EUL).
"Having received that seal of approval, we can roll these vaccines out to frontline healthcare workers."He said these vaccines were being used "to show healthcare workers government’s need to care for them by giving them first bite at the cherry, demonstrating safety and efficacy, and to get the ball rolling by having these persons vaccinated show their colleagues that they have total faith in the vaccination programme.”
CMO Dr Roshan Parasram said the vaccines came from the Serum Institute of India, one of two manufacturers approved by the WHO.
“The vaccine is a vector vaccine, which is an adenovirus platform to which the spike protein is added to take it into the cells. It gives good antibody formation as it resembles a normal infection.
"Storage for that particular vaccine is two to eight degrees Celsius, which means it can be stored at normal refrigerator temperature, which is good for distribution. Each vial gives ten doses, and a vial needs to be used up within six hours of being punctured.”
He said healthcare workers were divided into two tiers. The first were those who came into direct contact with suspected and confirmed cases, those who swab suspected cases at health centres, and those at accident and emergency departments. The second tier contained all other healthcare workers.
The CMO said people receiving the vaccines would be observed for adverse reactions for 30 minutes after the initial injection, with monitoring and followup continuing for up to a year.
North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas said the authority was elated to give its frontline staff protection and was confident it could execute a seamless vaccination process. He said there would be no additional cost or staff needed for the rollout, as the authority had just completed the H1N1 vaccination rollout.
Deyalsingh said the 100,000 vaccines received by Barbados, of which TT received 2,000, were a gift to the Caribbean from India, and Barbados had been chosen as the focal point from which the vaccines were distributed.
He said the government continued to try to get vaccine doses from other sources.
“We have been in talks with other governments – China, India – as well as bilateral talks with several companies – Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, Sinopharm – and we are also in talks with a Caricom initiative, through what is called the African Medicines Council (AMC). Yesterday or day before, we signed off on our needs analysis for the AMC and we have been allocated – in theory on paper, we have expressed our interest in purchasing 226,000 doses, distributed amongst Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson. We are awaiting price estimates and estimated time of arrival.
"Once the vaccines from the Chinese government have received EUA/EUL approval, we will be in a position to access them.”
He said the Pfizer vaccine had not been an initial part of the Covax facility, as the company had only agreed to give it vaccines in January. He said when the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) informed TT of this, there was a global shortage of Pfizer vaccines and it did not want to send a supply to TT without being able to send the second dose.
He said PAHO said TT’s management of the virus was so good that it preferred to send the vaccines to other countries first.
Parasram said the ministry was waiting to see if there would be any increase in cases as a result of children returning to school on February 8. He said if so, this increase would begin to show itself from the end of this week into next week.
With respect to Carnival mini-gatherings over the past week, he said gatherings always presented a risk for spreading the virus, especially if the regulations were not followed.