THE Prime Minister is clueless as to when Trinidad and Tobago will receive its ordered batch of covid19 vaccines.
The country already made a US$1.477 million (TT$10 million) down payment to Covax and is supposed to receive 33,000 doses at the end of March, but Dr Rowley told the public on Thursday night that he cannot say exactly when they will arrive.
At a televised Conversation with the Prime Minister forum in St Joseph, Rowley said that as of Thursday night the government has no confirmation that any vaccines will arrive by March 22.
And from his recent interaction with World Health Organization (WHO), it appears the Covax facility would be unable to deliver the full order.
Rowley said, “It appears as though, in the Covax, it may not even be that (the 33,000 vaccines TT is expecting at the end of March). It will be less. And not being able to confirm a shipment now is making us believe that Covax has not been able to access.”
He still assured the country that the order is still on track to arrive sometime at the end of March. Rowley said Covax assigned TT’s supply to AstraZeneca Mika in Korea. That company has fallen short of the number of vaccines it hoped to produce and this is the reason for the delay.
“Their shortcoming is creating the delay in our area. But we have been talking to other people…We are part of a world problem and however you slice it, however you dice it, vaccines are not available for purchase. Small Caricom countries and some who are in desperation have had small favours.”
NO WORD ON CHINESE OFFER
In his capacity as head of Caricom, Rowley has since written to the UK, US and Canadian prime ministers highlighting the vaccine clog for countries in the region.
“Canada has indicated they are giving close attention to what we said. That’s the only response I’ve had so far. I don’t know what that means.”
Previous reports said after the first batch is received, TT is expecting an additional 77,000 of 108,000 doses, sought through the Covax facility, between the end of April and early May.
Rowley hopes to have approximately 600,000 or 700,000 people vaccinated. So far, TT has vaccinated 1,000 frontline workers, with the first dose using 2,000 Maitri vaccines given to Barbados from the Government of India.
On Tuesday, China’s President Xi Jinping promised to assist TT with its SinoPharm vaccine during a virtual meeting with Rowley. Apart from confirmation of China’s offer, there has been no word from Rowley or his government on whether it will take up President Xi on his offer, especially as the vaccine vacuum in this country remains with no end in sight.
NOT GOING TO BE BEGGING
While the country has no choice but to wait for its Covax order, although other countries throughout the region are receiving covid19 vaccines as gifts, Rowley was adamant that TT will not go “begging” for such gifts, especially if the vaccines aren’t approved by the World Health Organization.
He touched on the issue of India’s vaccine Maitri given to other countries by the Government of India and not to TT.
“A few of our Caribbean neighbours have got gifts. And of course, when you go to somebody asking for a gift, that’s not a gift, you’re begging. There was no arrangement for us here in TT to vaccinate this population by begging.”
Ironically, TT’s Caricom neighbour Barbados sent 2,000 doses out of a batch of vaccines it received as a gift from the Indian Government.
Two weeks ago, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar accused the government of not positioning TT to receive some of the 500,000 vaccines said to have been sent by India to countries in the region.
A spat between Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne and Persad-Bissessar followed after she wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on behalf of TT requesting a donation of AstraZeneca covid19 vaccines.
As of March 18, vaccine Maitri had been distributed to 71 countries. But there has been no word on whether or not India will be sending any vaccine gifts to TT after Persad-Bissessar’s letter.
Rowley said, “I have been accused of not moving to get TT’s share of some 500,000 vaccines from the Government of India. A lot of people in this country either, by ancestry or by political persuasion, have taken it upon themselves to be mouthpieces for the government of India. (They’re saying) 500,000 vaccines available and TT was not moving to get it, and accusing us of all manner of evil.”
He said the government communicated directly with India and there was no confirmation of 500,000 vaccines being available and this country was not invited to be part of any free vaccine distribution programme.
“The first I heard about any vaccines from India was from local doctors who were spoken to by the Indian High Commissioner, who did not speak to the Government of TT.”
The second time he heard about the Maitri vaccines was through local businessmen hoping to bring vaccines into the country.
“We also communicated with the supplier from India who is supplying the world. They said they are not taking any orders. What is happening is that the vaccine suppliers have taken pre-orders from the wealthy countries that are buying up all that they can produce.”
UNC: GOVT HAS FAILED
The Opposition, in a release on Friday, accused Rowley of having TT’s vaccination programme in shambles. It went on to say India’s covid19 vaccines were never a secret and Rowley’s claim to not know about them is untrue, when India’s PM discussed how his country could help the world via its vaccine programme during an address at the 75th meeting of the UN General Assembly in 2020 – an event Rowley attended.
In February, Barbados received 100,000 vaccines from India. Out of that, it donated 2,000 doses to TT, 1,500 to Guyana, 1,000 to St Lucia and 500 to Grenada. India also donated 70,000 vaccines to Dominica and 40,000 vaccines to Antigua and Barbuda which are yet to arrive.
Dominica shared 2,000 vaccines with St Lucia, 5,000 with Antigua and Barbuda, 5,000 to St Vincent and the Grenadines, 2,000 to St Kitts and Nevis, and 500 to Grenada.
In response to an editorial in Newsday on vaccine diplomacy, the Indian High Commission said it’s up to governments to either request or accept help from India’s government.