Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said he was disappointed that the leader of the opposition, Kamla Persad-Bisessar, had requested a donation of Covid-19 vaccines from the government of India.
In a letter dated 23 February 2021, addressed to the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, Persad-Bisessar wrote that Trinidad and Tobago was reeling from the effects of the virus.
At the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference, Deyalsingh responded: “It is quite unfortunate that a former prime minister of this country characterises Trinidad [and Tobago] as ‘reeling’ from Covid-19. A rolling seven-day average of five is not ‘reeling’.”
He said that all official diplomatic channels were already engaged in trying to source vaccines from India, citing correspondence between the prime ministers of both countries and talks between T&T foreign minister Amery Browne and the Indian high commissioner.
“We want vaccines here. Please be a part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said.
Speaking to Persad-Bisessar and the opposition, he added: “You may hate the government, but don’t hate Trinidad and Tobago.”
Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne also responded to the opposition leader’s letter in a media release.
He wrote: “This Leader of the Opposition has chosen to sacrifice protocol and good judgement and to tamper with sound bilateral relations in a quest for relevance and attention.
“The decision by the Leader of the Opposition to try to insert herself into a matter of ongoing Government-to-Government communication must be seen for what it is, an attempt to position herself to claim in retrospect that her letter was the one that achieved any particular outcome.”
Addressing the problem of supply and the unequal distribution of vaccines around the world, Pan-American Health Organisation representative Dr Erica Wheeler defended the Covax facility, which was set up, in part, to guarantee equal global access to the Covid-19 vaccine.
At the health ministry’s December 2nd press conference last year, Dr Wheeler downplayed the possibility of vaccine hoarding by rich countries, saying there was a ‘global agreement and there will be controls as to how the vaccines have been distributed’.
Today she said that the facility’s main goal was to provide 2bn doses of the vaccine to participating countries by the end of 2021 to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
“The Covax facility has met that aim, in fact, they have 3bn doses right now,” she said. “But the issue of equity, you have to remember that sovereign states are able to exercise their ability to purchase outside the Covax facility. So, when it was set up, there was never any requirement which said if you want to buy from the Covax facility, you cannot purchase independently.”
She added that the vaccines were manufactured in many of the countries that were buying up the largest shares of doses. This gave these countries direct access to the manufacturers, and they were able to place large orders early on.
“The Covax facility did not fail in terms of delivering what it said it would. But the Covax facility does not have legal rights to control sovereign states to purchase vaccines from their own manufacturers, and this is why we have seen this inequity,” Wheeler said.
Asked by Wired868 whether Trinidad and Tobago was any closer to fully reopening schools (students in forms four to six have been back out to school since 7 February), given low new case numbers and low hospitalisation rates, the minister of health insisted more data was still needed.
“We have only today confirmed in Tobago our first case of Covid-19 in a [form four] child. So that is the kind of data progression we have to look at,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves now, ‘is this an isolated case?’, ‘are there more cases to come?’. Only time will tell.
“… So, it is not accurate to say that because numbers are low, we can open back the schools. I am hoping that this one case in Tobago is sincerely not the tip of the iceberg, but you only have to wait and see.”