A global shortage of the COVID-19 vaccine, coupled with a mandate for the India-based manufacturers to meet domestic demand first may mean a longer wait for the vaccine locally.
Government is expected to provide an update on the status of the orders of COVID-19 vaccines from India today.
In an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh responded to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s remarks that smaller countries are not being allowed in the door to order vaccines. The vaccines themselves, Deyalsingh said, has a six-month shelf life which complicates storage.
“The time between the first and second dose is sometimes three months, so it means you have to have these vaccines on the shelf for three months, not being used,” he said.
“It is a very complex position,” Deyalsingh said.
Bigger countries with bigger budgets and a larger order have now been pushed lower in the rungs, forcing smaller countries lower still and into a longer wait cycle.
“Larger countries are hoarding,” he said.
“One company who spoke to us said that we have to order three million vaccines,” Deyalsingh said.
“It is clear that they don’t want to talk to us,” he said.
“He (PM) was quite correct because the larger countries are dealing bi-laterally with the major suppliers. However, the Covax supplier, we will still be receiving, as promised 100,000 to 120,000 doses in March, so our vaccine rollout can begin on schedule,” he said.
Deyalsingh said what both he and Rowley was referring to was bigger countries going directly to vaccine manufacturers.
“When you put to a small country that we must buy three million doses, it’s clear that they don’t want to deal with you and this is where the Covax facility comes in,” he said.
“The Covax facility has commitments to purchase between two and three billion doses from the vaccine manufacturers and then we would get our portion of that,” he said.
Back in October when the Minister announced that T&T had joined the Covax facility, he said that the US$9 million investment will be directed to a portfolio of candidates including manufacturers like Sinovac, Sinopharm, the University of Oxford, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Moderna.
“Sinopharm is not yet approved by WHO, so whilst we are in preliminary talks with them because our policy in T&T is to only use vaccines that have been received emergency use authorisation from WHO,” Deyalsingh said.
Deyalsingh said that the vaccines gifted to T&T from Barbados last week had been in the country two weeks ago and the Government did not utilise it until it received the WHO approval.
“We had to wait until the 15th (February) for them to get WHO approval,” he said.
The Opposition has been calling for Deyalsingh’s head since he mistakenly said that the 2,000 vaccines donated to T&T from Barbados was a gift from India. The Opposition was also calling on the Government to call elections over its bungling of the vaccine rollout.
“From day one the Opposition has not been helpful in the response to COVID. Now they are latching on the vaccine global shortage as a way of gaining political relevance,” he said.
T&T is also pursuing the Caricom initiative is making applications to the African Medicine Council for vaccines.
“T&T has been registered as a purchaser for 226,000 doses of vaccines,” he said.
Another manufacturer, Pfizer/BioNtech also has the vaccine available but Government did not make any applications to that company because it was not a member of Covax.
“They only joined Covax in January this year, so that puts another layer of complication into the matter,” he said.
The Caricom initiative has made application to the African Medicine Council.
Deyalsingh said that it was the Caricom Secretariat that was responsible for communication with that council and directed questions to that body.
Guardian Media asked Rowley the same question and was also directed to the Caricom Secretariat located in Guyana.
“Talk to the Caricom Secretariat about the M A S P,” Rowley said yesterday.
Deyalsingh was not sure what the Prime Minister meant by MASP.
“He probably mean that, I don’t know,” Deyalsingh said.
A response is pending.
What Guardian Media found through Caricom was the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) which former Caricom chair, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley spoke about in June.
According to the Caricom update, member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have been given access to the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), “a procurement system for supplies and equipment in the fight against COVID-19”.
“The AMSP unlocks immediate access to an African and global base of vetted manufacturers and procurement strategic partners. It enables African Union Member States to purchase certified medical equipment, such as diagnostic kits, personal protection equipment (PPE) and clinical management devices, with increased cost effectiveness and transparency” the site said.