Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh MP.

In anticipation of receiving its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines in the first quarter of 2021, local health authorities are busy preparing facilities for its storage and distribution.

And while Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has not able to say exactly which vaccine T&T will be receiving or the costs, he assured storage locations are being readied ahead of time.

Speaking during the Ministry of Health’s media briefing on Saturday, he said three sub-zero freezers had already been identified within the country which could be used to store the Pfizer vaccine which has to be kept at -72 degrees celsius.

The existing locations are the Trinidad Public Health Lab; the Port-of-Spain General Hospital; and the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.

He said they are currently being re-commissioned and serviced as part of the national preparation plan.

Meanwhile, the minister added, “In case we receive a vaccine that has to be stored at -20, we already have in-county in the public health sector two sub-zero -20 freezers at the Arima Hospital.”

Confirming officials had visited Tobago last Thursday to inspect their vaccine storage facility, Deyalsingh disclosed, “The chiller there is in good condition. There will have to be some minor tweaks, but if Tobago had to receive vaccines, they can receive vaccines.”

Stating that the C40 storage facility in Chaguaramas has space, he said tenders had already gone out through the North Central Regional Health Authority (NRCHA), which is the procurement agency, for interested people to build the chiller at the Couva facility.

Hoping to be in a state of readiness by the end of February with the chiller at Couva, Deyalsingh said, “We are anticipating that if we are to start receiving vaccines from March, we will be in a position to do so; to receive, to store, and to distribute.”

He said additional orders for sub-zero freezers had already been placed.

Recapping the MOH’s response which began on July 13 when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley communicated T&T’s interest in acquiring COVID-19 vaccines through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) revolving fund, Deyalsingh went on to detail the various steps that had been taken between September 9 and November 19.

Revealing that they had been handed an 18-parameter pre-requisite by PAHO on December 2 to be fulfilled, he said that report was submitted on December 15.

Indicating he had visited satellite centres which will be used as distribution points for the vaccine under the auspices of the Eastern Regional Health Authority—spanning areas from Toco to Sangre Grande and Mayaro to Rio Claro last week —Deyalsingh said, “We are choosing sites that have resuscitation capacity in case, in the unlikely event that someone should have an adverse reaction, these sites must have resuscitation equipment.”

Indicating similar measures would be undertaken through the other RHAs and should be completed by the end of the first week in January, Deyalsingh said, “I am satisfied we are on the right path.”

Deyalsingh pointed out that COVAX, the global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of their income level, announced it had arrangements in place to access nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines during 2021, on behalf of 190 participating countries.