There is no agreement yet between T&T and India for either the purchase or donation of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines. This was confirmed yesterday by Indian High Commissioner Arun Kumar Sahu who said this country’s order of 250,000 vaccines from the Serum Institute in India has not been finalised.
Guardian Media contacted the High Commissioner last week about the status of this country’s order of Indian-made vaccines. In a response yesterday, the High Commissioner’s office said it is willing to help expedite the order but only after T&T “places an order with the Serum Institute directly and reaches a commercial agreement.”
“The external supplies of vaccines are an ongoing process, depending on availability and domestic requirements,” the office said. It added that in the coming weeks, Indian vaccines are expected “to reach some of the Caribbean countries whose governments have requested India for donation” but gave no further details.
“The total donation of vaccine to the Caribbean countries is expected to be around 500,000 doses,” High Commissioner Sahu said.
T&T, through Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne, began discussions about purchasing 250,000 orders of the vaccine on February 16, one day after the Serum Institute received Word Health Organisation (WHO) approval. Browne has written to his Indian counterpart, Dr S. Jaishankar, for help in getting the required export approval.
“Keeping in mind our own domestic demand and other commitments for made in India vaccines, our long-standing friendly relations with the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago, we will try our best to expedite this approval process,” the High Commissioner said.
However, he pointed out: “The High Commission is not aware of any proposal from the Trinidad and Tobago Government requesting for gifting of vaccines by the Government of India.”
The Government of India donated some 50,000 doses of vaccines to Barbados, another 70,000 to Dominica and will contribute some 500,000 vaccines to Caricom. By yesterday’s count, India has donated 6.75 million doses and dispatched another 22.3 million doses on commercial terms to 28 countries.
Barbados has gifted T&T 2,000 doses of vaccines, enough to vaccinate 1000 people, and 3,000 to Guyana.
“In the Latin America and Caribbean region, Mexico has already purchased 0.87 million doses; Brazil has purchased 2 million doses, and Argentina purchased 5.8 million doses,” the Commissioner said. “India has also donated 200,000 doses for UN Peacekeeping Force.”
More than 90 countries are looking for Indian vaccines either through donation or commercial purchase and as of yesterday, some 28 countries have benefited from made in India vaccines.
T&T began the rollout of the 2,000 vaccines last Wednesday in Trinidad and in Tobago on Saturday. The first doses have already been administered and the second doses are expected to be administered within the next 12 weeks.
At a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley warned that smaller countries are being overlooked in their attempts to get COVID-19 vaccine supplies. He and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said the government is trying to manoeuvre around an unequal market.
According to Dr Rowley, some smaller countries are not even being allowed inside the door to place orders.
However just last week he was confident about the supply to T&T saying then that “monies have been paid, local preparations have been made, orders, negotiations outside of COVAX supply are currently underway and we are close to receiving and using our anticipated supply.”