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Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh answers an Urgent Question posed by Senator Wade Mark during yesterday’s sitting of the Senate.

The most important component to reach herd immunity in T&T is for the UNC to stop undermining Government’s vaccination plan, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said in the Senate yesterday.

Deyalsingh was answering a question from UNC’s Wade Mark on the timeframe to achieve herd immunity from the virus in T&T.

He said that involved vaccinating 600,000 to 700,000 people. However, he said there are three variables.

“One is availability of vaccines, which we must have in large numbers, which we’re currently working on to good effect. Two is public confidence in the vaccines,” he said.

“And three, we need to get the UNC to stop undermining Government’s vaccination plan—that’s the most important component to reach herd immunity. If the UNC, as led by the honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her spokesmen, keep on undermining faith in the vaccines, we won’t achieve it (herd immunity).”

He said coming together and providing leadership was needed.

“However, if the Opposition works with us we could administer 700,000 vaccines in about six to seven months to get herd immunity based on deploying vaccines to 104 health centres and 10 mass vaccination sites as I indicated in my Cabinet note.”

He said the latter aspects—on centres and sites—were part of the plan presented to Cabinet.

“The plan is there, but it calls for leadership and for people to stop undermining the Government’s vaccination programme.”

“Nonsense!” Mark sputtered at Deyalsingh’s remarks on the Opposition.

At another point of similar remarks by Deyalsingh, Mark said the only people undermining the process was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the Government.

Deyalsingh had earlier, indirectly, stated his point on the Opposition when asked about hospital operations. He said outpatient staff were freed to go to COVID hospitals. Institutions also re-engaged with telemedicine to keep contact with patients and automatic refill of prescriptions are being done, while emergency cases are triaged in Accident and Emergency units.

This will continue until the virus is curbed. On when that will be curbed, Deyalsingh said that’s solely dependent on the virus spread.

“The timeframe could be cut significantly if everyone followed protocols and depending on if all leaders, political and otherwise, who lead people, who believe in them, are responsible, we could cut the timeframe significantly.”

On Mark’s other queries about vaccine supply, Deyalsingh repeated what he’d said on the issue. Government is in bilateral talks with Pfizer, Moderna, Covax, the African Medicine Council and other initiatives through Caricom with the Council and Covax, he said.

He couldn’t say if anything was “near or far” with Pfizer, repeating that talks were on with that company, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

“At this time, there’s no firm arrangement,” he said.

He said no local distributor is involved with vaccine importation from Covax, the Council or any other arrangement.

Deyalsingh said there may come a time when local agents in any country may be able to purchase vaccines for commercial use. But Government didn’t know when and that hasn’t arrived yet anywhere in the world and vaccine manufacturers at this point are only talking to governments and trading blocks like Caricom and the European Union.

“The question doesn’t arise now, it may arise in the future,” he said.

He said Pfizer isn’t in talks with local distributors as yet at this point and there’s no access to vaccines currently for the private sector.

“What we’re doing is casting our net wide, wide and we’re very close with Sinopharm to get large numbers of vaccines.”

Meanwhile, forms for laid-off employees to seek grants announced recently by Government are expected to be online from early next week.

Forms will also be on Social Development and Finance websites.