Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh, dug his heels in yesterday as he defended his policy that the country would only procure and administer COVID-19 vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation.

To date, there has not been any substantial quantity of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the country. There is also yet to be an exact date set for the delivery of doses through the country’s most fruitful acquisition venture so far- the COVAX Facility. In light of this, the Minister, and the government, have received harsh criticisms- especially as other Caribbean countries receive doses through other channels.

One of the criticisms circulating, from the opposition United National Congress and citizens on social media, is that the ministry’s policy places the country further back in the queue for vaccines. With this came suggestions about utilising non-WHO approved jabs but those which have attained other regulatory approvals such as from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

But according to Minister Deyalsingh, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Whilst I know we are all anxious and I am anxious, safety of our local population must trump expediency,” he said.

“We cannot be too quick to bring unapproved vaccines into Trinidad and Tobago. You may win a race to start, you may look good in the short term, but what happens if you have an unfortunate adverse event.”

His comments came during a Ministry of Health virtual press conference where he spent almost 25 minutes explaining the ministry’s vaccination plan and the rationale behind its decisions.

Responding to other criticisms in the public domain about other channels which can be explored, Minister Deyalsingh said: “It is not as easy as persons are making it out to be that we just buy vaccines and bring it in,” he later added.

During his budget presentation on October 9, Minister Deyalsingh revealed that the Cabinet had approved some $66 million for the acquisition of vaccines. On September 18, the ministry signed on to the COVAX facility and made a US $1.477 million down payment.

In January, the Minister indicated came that this investment led to T&T’s allocation of over 100,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine scheduled for arrival in early March. This was later confirmed to be 100,800 doses which would be delivered in at least two batches by the end of March; the first being 33,600 doses.

On October 1, the ministry began formal bi-lateral discussions with vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Sionpharm to acquire doses outside of COVAX. This, however, has not been fruitful.

The country is also going through the CARICOM initiative where it is registered as a purchaser of vaccines through the African Medical Council. According to a release from the ministry on February 24, the country signed off on the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines via the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) and has shown some promise. It was later revealed that it has an order for over 400,000 doses of vaccines from Trinidad and Tobago but there is yet to be any word on when these jabs are expected to be purchased and delivered.