Ministry of Health permanent secretary Asif Ali

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday could not confirm whether the batch of COVAX vaccines that came in on Sunday was paid for by the Government or by the InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB) and said that he would have to check with his Permanent Secretary, Asif Ali.

However, Ali was before the Public Administration and Appropriation Committee (PAAC) yesterday and said that it was the IADB that funded both this recently received COVAX vaccine and the second batch expected in May.

Ali was asked about the source of the payments by PAAC member Amrita Deonarine yesterday.

“In terms of what elements they are covering; they would have met the cost of the initial batch of COVAX vaccines that we got yesterday (Sunday). They’re paying for that initial batch, they’re paying for the other batch that’s due to come in May. So they are paying for those vaccines. The first shipment from COVAX. They are also funding the data entry clerks and the nurses that are covered in our plan and they are also paying for some element of the communication plan,” Ali said.

“In terms of the actual dollar figures, I don’t have that with me,” he said.

Deonarine also requested that the Ministry submit the percentage differences between the Government spend and the IDB loan which Ali promised to supply in writing.

Fellow PAAC member and Opposition Senator Wade Mark asked Ali for a detailed listing of all the available contributions, grants and loans by all international lending agencies which Ali also promised to supply at a later date.

With regards to vaccine donations, Ali said that the have been no confirmed date of delivery for those as yet.

He said that the Ministry was still in talks with the Indian High Commissioner, Arun Kumar Sahu but there has been no confirmed delivery date as yet.

Last August, T&T signed two loan facilities with the IABD, one valued at US$100 million specifically to “Strengthen Fiscal Policy and Management in Response to the Health and Economic Crisis caused by COVID-19.”

According to the IADB site, the loan “will aid the Government’s ongoing efforts by supporting their health response to the pandemic through additional hiring of health personnel and purchasing of medical equipment; strengthening fiscal policy measures to protect vulnerable households and increase liquidity for businesses; and promoting economic and fiscal recovery in the post-pandemic period.”

Two months later, during the Budget debate, Deyalsingh said that the Government had committed US$10 million to the COVAX facility for the vaccines.

Last week, the Minister of Health and the private sector agreed to work together to access more vaccines at that time, conglomerate ANSA McAL said that it had access to one million vaccines from, the Serum Institute in India.

Mark sought more details on those discussions.

“For those agencies that would have approached the Ministry, we would have responded asking them certain questions, clarifications, specifics about the source of the vaccine, storage conditions etc. Once we get a response from them, we would then look at those and then take it from there,” Ali said.

Ali said that the Ministry wrote to the private entities and are still awaiting feedback from those agencies.

Meanwhile Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram said that any drug being brought into the country needed to be registered with the Chemistry Food and Drug Division.

“The vaccines that would be registered already, such as those coming out of the AstraZeneca sites, are already registered meaning that if someone wants to purchase from those sites they could do so and bring it into the country,” he said, adding that the importer would still need to alert the Chemistry Food and Drug Division.”