THOUSANDS of doses of the Pfizer vaccine donated by the US to Trinidad and Tobago gained an extra lease of life when Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said on Monday that health authorities had extended the shelf-life of the favoured brand from November until next February.
The news came on the day cinemas, gyms, casinos and other leisure spots were set to reopen as safe zones for vaccinated-only patrons and staff.
The US donated over 300,000 Pfizer vaccines to TT – the only type approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for people 12 to 18 years old.
As the House of Representatives’ standing finance committee examined budget costs, Deyalsingh revised his position in September when he had said the expiry date was fast approaching in November, and had extended the offer of Pfizer to pregnant women, then health workers and school teachers.
He had urged, "The Pfizer vaccine expires at the end of November so the window of opportunity for using it gets smaller and smaller because we have to administer the first dose by mid- to end of October for the latest, because we have to wait three weeks to administer the second shot."
However in his latest update, Deyalsingh told MPs, "The Pfizer vaccine came with an initial expiry date of November 2021. However, WHO and PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) have extended that now by three months so we can use them until February 2022."
He said the AstraZeneca vaccines expire in October-November, Johnson & Johnson in 2023, and Sinopharm in June 2023.
Newsday asked if the Opposition had any objection to the expiry date extension for Pfizer.
Caroni East MP Dr Rishad Seecheran replied, "No. That is a directive from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). So, I have no issue with the extension of the expiry date of the current stock of Pfizer vaccines."
The US-based National Community Pharmacists Association said the FDA has approved such an extension for emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer vaccine, whereby an expiry date of August 2021 through February 2022 was being extended by three months once stored between -90°C to -60°C.
The FDA website confirmed this extension in a fact sheet, dated September 22, for healthcare providers administering the Pfizer vaccine . It also posted a letter from the FDA to Pfizer dated August 22 agreeing to the extension, saying, "We have completed our review and based on the information submitted, we concur with this change."
Newsday asked Deyalsingh for a link showing the WHO and PAHO approving the extension, saying our Google searches only showed the FDA's nod.
He replied, "It will be shared for all media at Wednesday's press conference. I will bring a technical person to further explain."
Otherwise, in the sitting, Seecheran asked Deyalsingh about using the antiviral pill Molnupiravir against covid19. The minister scoffed that he only followed WHO guidelines. He said had he followed advice from the Opposition, people would be receiving doses of Hydroxychloroquine.
Seecheran, in a text message to Newsday said, "It (Molnupiravir) will save lives. Persons who are not vaccinated need a therapeutic, and the minister is refusing to allocate funds for it."
The Gavi Alliance website last May posted an opinion commentary by Priya Joi titled “Are covid19 vaccine expiration dates too cautious?” It said manufacturers of covid19 vaccines have been "extremely cautious" with their estimate of expiry dates with most timelines set at only three to six months when in fact most vaccines have an expiry date of about three years. On the other hand, countries like Malawi made a big display of publicly burning vaccines near/at their expiry date so as not to fuel the fires of vaccine hesitancy.
At times TT nationals have rushed for Pfizer as it was approved for travel to the US, but the distribution also saw uptake among children drop from 3,000 a day to 1,000 a day, Newsday had reported in late August, when 22,000 youngsters had received their first dose.