UNC: Trinidad and Tobago has lowest vaccination rate in region

OPPOSITION MP for Caroni East Dr Rishad Seecheran said Government should not have waited for World Health Organization (WHO) approval before starting covid19 vaccine procurement.

TT should have instead tried to pre-order vaccines based on data from phase III trials as many other countries around the world had done. He added that many began vaccinating their public before WHO authorisation.

Caricom neighbour Barbados had confirmed on February 5 that it had approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use and it would be administered in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Seecheran said WHO did not authorise the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine until February 15.

At the United National Congress’ (UNC) weekly press conference on Sunday, Seecheran said it was now “entirely conceivable that TT will not be able to vaccinate our citizens to acceptable levels until well into 2022 or 2023,” because of the demand for the vaccines and difficulty in meeting supply.

Seecheran said the Prime Minister said the Government could not procure vaccines because the policy of the Government was to engage with manufacturers only when the vaccines became WHO-certified. He then asked how TT was entering an agreement with Sinopharm, whose vaccine does not have WHO approval to date.

He addressed a number of issues relating to the vaccines including the donation of vaccines by India, its vaccine Maitri programme and what he termed the Covax conundrum.

Seecheran said every vaccine had to get regulatory approval before being given to the public and that some countries do it through a national agency, while others chose to follow an international agency like the WHO.

He added that the Moderna vaccine, with an efficacy rate of 96 per cent, has not been given WHO approval. He said Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced on Saturday with the Sinopharm agreement, WHO authorisation is not a reason to make a pre-order of vaccines with a manufacturer, dependent on the vaccine receiving the necessary approvals.

Seecheran said had this been done in October when funds were allocated in the budget for the purchase of vaccines, TT would have been busy vaccinating citizens as the rest of the world was doing.

He said TT went from the lowest testing rate in Caricom to the lowest vaccination rate in Caricom. and had vaccinated 0.03 per cent of its population, while the Cayman Islands had vaccinated 48 per cent and Barbados 17 per cent.

He said while the Covax facility hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year, there are concerns that this target won’t be met owing to funding challenges.

“In recent months, wealthier nations have pre-purchased huge amounts of the vaccines promised by front-runner producers,Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Of the billions of doses that vaccine-makers have committed to make, three of every four already have been bought,” he said.

Seecheran said top vaccine manufacturers have sold out all of their current supply and most of their future production of 2021, and TT was at the back of the line in procuring vaccines for citizens.

When asked about Seecheran’s statements, Deyalsingh – through his corporate communications unit – said his “position on this matter is clear.”

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