While Caribbean neighbours like Barbados, Dominica and now Jamaica, Guyana and Belize are all rolling out COVID-19 vaccines donated by India, there is still no definitive response to Trinidad and Tobago’s request for those same donated vaccines.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Amery Browne yesterday confirmed the lack of response to the February 23 letter, sent by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley requesting both a donation of the vaccine and a request to purchase vaccines.
“We continue to communicate with the High Commissioner of India on the matter of provision of vaccines for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and the High Commissioner has assured that the Government of India would go the extra mile to provide vaccines to Trinidad and Tobago in due course,” Browne said.
“Simultaneously we have been working closely with Minister of Health (Terrence) Deyalsingh and our High Commissioner in Delhi Dr Roger Gopaul in exploring options for accessing vaccines from major vaccine manufacturers in India,” he said.
“The Ministry of Health has been following up on these and other linkages with manufacturers in a range of countries,” he added.
The lack of vaccine is especially stinging as the rollout continues in other Caricom and Caribbean countries.
On Sunday, Guyana received its 80,000 vaccines donated by India and on Tuesday Jamaica received its 50,000 doses.
Both shipments were from the AstraZeneca Covidshield batch and not the Covaxin which has yet to receive the World Health Organisation (WHO) approval.
On Saturday, the senior Government official confirmed to Guardian Media that the Indian High Commission office was pushing for T&T to accept the unaccredited Covaxin instead of the Covishield.
The Government pushed back because it has a policy to only use vaccines with the WHO approval.
Guyana’s Ministry of Health yesterday confirmed to Guardian Media that its vaccine was the AstraZeneca Covishield. Jamaica’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jacqueline Bisasor-McKenzie also confirmed that they received the Covishield vaccine.
It is unclear why the local Indian High Commissioner is asking T&T to accept the Covaxin instead but that office has not returned calls or emails requesting clarification.
There have been questions about the process of communication between Indian High Commission offices and respective Governments, specifically whether the Government was expected to make contact first or whether the Commissioners were supposed to communicate the availability of the 500,000 vaccine facility.
On March 1, Charles Jong, press secretary to Barbados Prime Minister Mia Armor Mottley said that their Indian High Commissioner did not communicate the availability of the vaccine to her office.
Rather, Jong said, Mottley “wrote to PM Modi during the last week in January”.
Barbados was the first island to receive the vaccine.
Mottley then shared some of that donated vaccine with Guyana and Trinidad.
While the local Indian High Commissioner has not responded to questions or follow-ups for information on the status of the vaccines or what process needed to be followed to obtain the vaccine, in a press release over the weekend it slammed a daily editorial for bad-mouthing India and also inadvertently revealed that it was the Governments that needed to make contact with the High Commissioners to request the vaccine.
In that release, the Indian High Commissioner said that “it is up to a sovereign government to either request or “accept” help from any other sovereign government at a time of crisis. India has never imposed itself on any other sovereign government to calibrate its external agreement”.
Last month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said aid that he was not aware of any 500,000 vaccine facility offered by India. He eventually wrote to India on February 23, requesting a donation of vaccines and also a request to purchase vaccines.