The High Commission of India in T&T has taken note of the controversy around India’s possible vaccine donation to T&T and the role of the High Commissioner in it. The High Commission would like to make the following clarification:
1. In his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India was ready to mass-produce COVID-19 vaccines when scientists give the go-ahead.
In his speech to the 75th UN General Assembly on September 26, 2020, he assured the global community that as the largest vaccine-producing country in the world, India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity would be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis. Subsequently, both PM Modi and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, on multiple occasions, talked about the Vaccine Maitri initiative of India. Media, both Indian and international, reported extensively about this initiative.
2. Following requests from various heads of governments for the supply of Indian-manufactured vaccines, the government of India started the supply on January 20, 2021. To date, India has supplied Covid vaccines to 72 nations across geographies. On January 19, Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit wrote to PM Modi for a donation of vaccines. His letter and subsequent social media exchanges are in the public domain. The donation of AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in Dominica on February 9, 2021.
3. On February 15, both Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Foreign Minister Dr Amery Browne reached out to the High Commissioner separately to explore the possibility of getting AstraZeneca vaccines from India. To both, the High Commissioner conveyed two clear options:
i. T&T government can request the Government of India (GOI) for a donation of vaccine, for which a request at the highest level to PM Modi might be considered.
ii. T&T can directly explore a commercial purchase of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII). Since it is a commercial deal, GOI will have a minimal role, only facilitating export approval. The relevant T&T authority could enter into a commercial agreement with SII. A copy of the deal could be shared with the High Commission so that we could help get expeditious export approval. High Commissioner also made it clear that it will not be easy since there is a tremendous global demand.
4. On February 16, the High Commission received Foreign Minister Dr Browne’s letter to his counterpart EAM Dr S Jaishankar requesting assistance in access for purchase and receipt of 250,000 doses of vaccine from SII.
5. On February 23, the High Commissioner was called to the Foreign Office for a quick meeting. He was informed that SII was not taking any commercial order at that time, and his assistance was sought in getting some vaccine donation. High Commissioner suggested that, even though it is very late, T&T may like to make a request for a donation at a suitable level. He also conveyed that given the historical, cultural and friendly relations with the people and government of T&T, but subject to domestic demand and other international commitments, we will go an extra mile to make an effort to get some vaccines. He was told that a letter would be sent.
6. It may be mentioned that people of various walks of life meet the High Commissioner to enhance and strengthen economic, trade, cultural, educational and people-to-people contacts between T&T and India. Professionals in the fields of medicine and health care all over the world are well aware of the strength of India in this sector and the latest developments. Many a time, it’s from them that the High Commissioner learns, and not the other way round. Likewise, many T&T businesses seek High Commissioner’s advice on doing business with India.
7. This is to recall that last year, amid the pandemic, India had supplied medicines including hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol to 150 nations. All three countries that this High Commission is accredited to, namely, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and Commonwealth Dominica, were supplied with these donations.
8. Keeping in view the long-standing historical, cultural and people-to-people contacts between India and Trinidad and Tobago, efforts are being made to supply some vaccines to T&T. However, no time frame could be indicated at this stage.