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CMO Dr Roshan Parasram

T&T will know within the next two days just when and how much COVID-19 vaccines it will receive via the COVAX facility.

According to Chief Medical Officer, Dr Roshan Parasram – the number of two-dose Astrazeneca vaccines will vary between 108,000 and 117,000.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to publish its global rollout plan soon, which will give T&T a better indication of when the vaccines will be available.

“Final information on the first round allocations, covering the majority of Facility participants, is expected to be communicated in the coming days,” the WHO assured in a news release issued yesterday.

Speaking during the Ministry of Health’s briefing yesterday, Parasram said the number they’re expecting represented a “portion of the first 20 per cent” which is scheduled to be delivered during 2021.

T&T has put in an order through the COVAX facility, for 923,340 doses, which is to be delivered in tranches.

Last month, the Government said it was expecting the first set of doses in March, estimated to be around 100,000.

The COVAX delivery dates, however, will only be known when the rollout plan is announced and is dependent on country readiness.

The WHO statement said: “In order for doses to be delivered to Facility participants via this first allocation round, several critical pieces must be in place, including confirmation of national regulatory authorisation criteria related to the vaccines delivered, indemnification agreements, national vaccination plans from AMC participants, as well as other logistical factors such as export and import licenses.”

It added: “As participants fulfil the above criteria and finalise readiness preparations, COVAX will issue purchase orders to the manufacturer and ship and deliver doses via an iterative process. This means deliveries for this first round of allocation will take place on a rolling basis and in tranches.”

Parasram has said that a similar-type agreement with the African Medical Council will see T&T receiving a further 226,000 COVID-19 vaccines as they become available.

Difficulty getting vaccines from India

Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, Dr Amery Browne elaborated on T&T’s efforts to acquire COVID-19 vaccines over the past six months and the difficulties faced in getting vaccines from India.

He pointed out that COVID-19 vaccines are not being manufactured by countries or states or governments but instead by private sector companies.

He told the media that discussions had been taking place directly with some of these suppliers.

Browne said on February 4, the Caricom Secretariat informed member states that an offer had been extended by a private manufacturer in India for persons to purchase the vaccine named COVAXIN.

The minister said, “To this date, COVAXIN has not achieved WHO approval.”

He said his ministry was engaged by the Ministry of Health to commence discussions with the Indian High Commission regarding the purchase of Covishield which was pending approval by the WHO.

The WHO approved Covishield on February 15.

He told the news conference that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had discussions with the Prime Minister of India as T&T looked for additional vaccine sources but that there were challenges establishing communication with the manufacturer.

He said the Indian High Commission has been instrumental in facilitating further talks and, “The Government of India is in a position to assist with the export of vaccines to our country but the purchase agreement must be made with the private sector.”

According to Browne, T&T’s High Commissioner to India, Roger Gopaul was successful in reaching the Serum Institute, which produces the vaccine.

However, he said, “Unfortunately, the response from the private sector institute was that the Serum Institute is not in a position to accept any further orders for vaccines at this time.”

Browne said the Indian Government has since pledged to go the “extra mile” to help T&T acquire these vaccines.

Dismissing public perception that T&T was reluctant to turn to India for vaccines as untrue and false, Browne said discussions are also taking place with officials in Germany, France, and Canada as part of broad-ranging efforts to procure approved vaccines for T&T.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds said data from the end of July 2020 to now showed an overall downward trend in the seven-day rolling average in the number of positive cases.

In the last three weeks, he said positive cases were now down to single digits which was an encouraging sign, and meant public health measures are working.

He urged people to hold the course even as the vaccine is being introduced into the population.

WHO on COVAX rollout

“Over the past several months, COVAX partners have been supporting governments and partners, particularly for AMC-eligible participants, in readiness efforts, in preparation for this moment. This includes assisting with the development of national vaccination plans, support for cold chain infrastructure, as well as stockpiling of half a billion syringes and safety boxes for their disposal, masks, gloves and other equipment to ensure that there is enough equipment for health workers to start vaccinating priority groups as soon as possible.

In order for doses to be delivered to Facility participants via this first allocation round, several critical pieces must be in place, including confirmation of national regulatory authorisation criteria related to the vaccines delivered, indemnification agreements, national vaccination plans from AMC participants, as well as other logistical factors such as export and import licenses.

As participants fulfil the above criteria and finalise readiness preparations, COVAX will issue purchase orders to the manufacturer and ship and deliver doses via an iterative process. This means deliveries for this first round of allocation will take place on a rolling basis and in tranches.

Building on the interim distribution forecast published earlier this month, final information on the first round allocations, covering the majority of Facility participants, is expected to be communicated in the coming days.

COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations, and is on track to meet its goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses of vaccine to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC.”