Several news outlets, including the Miami Herald, have reported that India plans to ship more than 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Caricom countries as a humanitarian donation. But Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne said Trinidad and Tobago has not received any such offer of aid.
“We have received no offer of free vaccines to Trinidad and Tobago from the government of India. We’ve also received no offer of free vaccine from the government of India via any Caricom mechanism,” Browne said at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference.
“We’ve checked with the Caricom secretariat specifically, and we’ve received no such correspondence.”
He said that his ministry has, however, been in talks with the High Commission of India to purchase 250,000 doses of Covishield—the local name for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India—from the Serum Institute of India—the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
Through the Trinidad and Tobago high commissioner in Delhi, Roger Gopaul, the T&T government approached the Serum Institute who said they were not taking any further orders, Browne said.
But the foreign minister said he spoke with the Indian high commissioner and was told that the government of India ‘will go the extra mile’ to secure Covishield vaccines for Trinidad and Tobago.
As for the reported 570,000 vaccine donation to Caricom, Cuba and the Dominican Republic that is part of India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative, Browne said T&T would be open to accepting any offer of free vaccines.
“We certainly would not preclude any additional provision of vaccines above and beyond that which we are seeking to purchase via the Serum Institute of India,” he said.
The chief medical officer, Dr Roshan Parasram, said that T&T had a confirmed provision of 923,340 vaccine doses through the World Health Organisation(WHO)-led Covax facility. These doses would be enough to vaccinate a third of the population.
He said that of those vaccines, 559,600 doses—enough to cover 20% of the population—are expected to be distributed over the next year.
Browne added that more than 200,000 additional doses were also confirmed through the Caricom initiative with the African Union. Caricom, he said, was awaiting details about when these vaccines are expected to arrive in the region.
With unequal access to vaccines globally, more than 130 countries have not yet begun any vaccination programme. Vaccines have long been promoted as necessary to achieve herd immunity and therefore end the pandemic.
But with WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan saying herd immunity will likely not be achieved this year, the technical director of the epidemiology division of the Ministry of Health, Dr Avery Hinds, said herd immunity was not the only way to beat the pandemic.
He said: “One way or another the global population achieves herd immunity when there is a pandemic, either through everyone getting the virus or through vaccination programmes. We have outlined on many occasions that we would much prefer to have our herd immunity achieved through the vaccination route and we’ve made provisions to get that done as far as possible.
“… But herd immunity by itself isn’t the be-all and end-all of the population’s protection. It’s not the be-all and end-all of the response to the pandemic.”
According to Hinds, T&T’s vaccine strategy, targeting high-risk and high-exposure groups in the population, would go a long way to slowing down the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
“That approach, in the initial instance, does a lot to reduce the risk of transmission throughout our population, even ahead of the achievement of herd immunity,” he said.
He added that the health measures that were already in place—mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing—were still effective in fighting the spread of Covid-19.
“At the end of this historical period, years down the road when we look back, we will see that the approaches we have taken have been largely successful in keeping the population safe in advance of herd immunity and maintaining that safety when herd immunity is eventually achieved,” he said.
The health ministry reported four new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases confirmed since March 2020 to 7,690. There are 120 active cases in the country. The death toll remains at 139.
Hospitalisations are low, with 12 patients at the Couva hospital, three of whom are in intensive care. There are two patients in step-down facilities.
Currently, 243 people are quarantined in state facilities and 102 in at-home self-isolation.