Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine does not mean that TT can relax.
Deyalsingh was speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual press conference on Wednesday.
“As we celebrate the arrival of the vaccines, that must be tempered by the reality, which is, we are not in a position yet to say we have conquered the virus.”
Deyalsingh said unfortunate statements made in Parliament last week about TT being in a “post-pandemic phase” were untrue.
“We are not in a post-pandemic phase. We are in a global pandemic. If we don’t emphasise that…the message is that we can relax.”
He referred to the recent surge in cases in the past few weeks, which have seen a rise in the rolling seven-day average from three to 17 – a 500 per cent increase.
“We are going into a difficult week of relaxation where people will be congregating,” he warned.
He reiterated the Prime Minister’s sentiments in his press conference on Saturday and encouraged all leaders who have influence over people to continue to uphold the public health measures.
Deyalsingh also said that the government and the ministry have taken a proactive stance in protecting the public from vaccines that are not approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“I have said on this platform what I would never sacrifice safety for expediency.”
He said false vaccines have been circulating in the Americas, and one supplier, who he did not name, reached out to him and said he had 110 million doses in an airport.
“Can you imagine that?” said Deyalsingh. “In this era of shortage of vaccines, he is claiming he has access to 110 million.
“The ministry is going to be very careful. At this point in time, vaccine manufacturers are not even speaking to their authorised local distributors and we will continue to protect the public’s interest and only bring in vaccines through the Covax facility or through bilateral talks that either the government or the ministry is having with either countries or vaccine manufacturers.”
He said the time will come when vaccines become commoditised and local distributors authorised by vaccine manufacturers – which have WHO approval – will distribute the vaccine.
The ministry does not yet have a timeline for the receipt of vaccines from India and China, Deyalsingh said, but India has indicated it will provide 40,000 doses and the ministry continues to work with the Indian High Commission.
His ministry is waiting for vaccines from China to be approved by WHO.
“So far, all things being equal, we are looking at the end of April.”
He said he met with the Chinese Ambassador on Monday and the ministry has placed an indicative order. Once WHO signs off on it, it will become a factual order.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) representative Erica Wheeler said TT will receive 108,000 vaccines through Covax, which would be sent in three tranches, the first of which TT received on Tuesday. She said the government will try to negotiate to receive the vaccines in two tranches instead of three.
All 108,000 vaccines should arrive in TT by May, Wheeler said.
Wheeler said by June, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should be available to Covax, and there are other vaccines under consideration by WHO.
“The government of TT waited for AstraZeneca to be approved and now we are in favourable position to be receiving them. We will continue, through the revolving fund, to procure vaccines on behalf of TT, and work closely with the ministry on the rollout in the coming months.”