Black-market bacchanal


On Wednesday, Clint Arjoon, president of the Fyzabad Chamber of Industry and Commerce, reported, seemingly with great certainty, to Fazeer Mohammed of TV6 that an unnamed facility had imported Pfizer vaccines for its staff.

The claim would go on to command significant official attention. On Wednesday morning, CMO Dr Roshan Parasram made it clear that the alleged vaccines had not been imported "through legal government channels." Any such importation was by definition, therefore, illegal.

By Thursday, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith emphasised that if the claim were true, it meant a very serious crime had taken place.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told Newsday on Thursday that he had "not received any communication on the issue yet."

It's hard to understand what Mr Arjoon hoped to achieve with this announcement on live television.

After being questioned by the police, he remained both defiantly unapologetic and unhelpful, offering officers no actionable information.

Responding to questions put to him by Newsday, Mr Arjoon said, "Why should it be reported? Has anything ever come out saying that someone privately bringing in the Pfizer vaccine is illegal?"

This is a startling statement from the head of a business association in South Trinidad.

Could it be that Mr Arjoon genuinely doesn't know what the Food and Drug Division of the government does?

To be clear, under the Food and Drugs Act, the authorities appointed to oversee the importation of medicines are responsible for the maintenance of drug standards, set guidelines for the distribution of drugs, tests and evaluate imports to ensure their suitability for their intended purpose.

The government has declared its determination to be guided by the expert testing and clearances of the World Health Organization, but the division remains the final gatekeeper for establishing the source and authenticity of medicines, as well as monitoring and verifying chain-of-custody arrangements for perishable formulations such as vaccines.

It has been repeatedly stressed, too, most often by the Prime Minister, that genuine vaccines are available from the manufacturers only to government sources and official entities such as the Worrld Health Organization-backed Covax facility.

These measures exist to ensure public health and safety, and the system has worked well to date.

Mr Arjoon may claim his intent was not to create mischief, but that doesn't change the fact that that was precisely what resulted, on a national scale.

Governance time has been wasted on this issue at the highest levels, with no useful result, at a time when everyone with responsibility for public health is overworked, burdened by matters of life and death.

If Mr Arjoon hoped to help in some way during these challenging times, he should have been ready to substantiate his bold and inflammatory announcement.

Conversations about vaccines and vaccinations should be honest, factual and supported by facts to serve the national interest.

Otherwise, it's all just possibly dangerous and definitely distracting ole talk.


"Black-market bacchanal"

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