The 80 doses of Pfizer vaccines that were quietly walked into the country on Saturday by a US official is now being held by the Ministry of Health.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said yesterday that the Ministry of Health is now waiting on the Ministry of National Security to provide some documents before the vaccines are released.
Parasram attended the Ministry of Health COVID-19 press conference yesterday and was asked about the vaccines which created a social media stir on Sunday.
“The Ministry of Health would have been made aware of the shipment prior to it, just prior to its arrival into T&T,” Parasram said.
“Customs would have alerted us when it was actually in the airport, our principal pharmacist would have actually gone in physically, took control of the vaccines, we now have it in a bonded facility which means that it is bonded pending use, so the Ministry of Health has taken control of it,” Parasram said.
“What we are waiting for is some documentation that the Ministry of National Security has to provide to us via the US, that their counterpart agency, we expect to get some information as it relates to invoicing which is part and parcel of the importation requirements,” he said.
Parasram said that they are also waiting on the regulatory documents which include the clinical dossier to see where the product was manufactured.
“It would be considered by the Drug Advisory Committee and then we would know if it is a vaccine that can be utilised in T&T,” he said.
“Once the documents come to us and we see that it is satisfactory, then the vaccines would be handed over to National Security for their use,” he said.
The process Parasram described seemed similar to the one laid out by the Ministry of Health when the private sector was looking at importing vaccines.
At that time the Health Ministry said the private sector needed to describe the WHO-approved supplier of the vaccine, provide details of the agent responsible for the acquisition and the administration of vaccines. It is necessary for the chain of custody to be laid out for the importation of vaccines.
When pressed for specifics on when the Ministry of Health was informed that the vaccines were coming into the country, Parasram said he did not have that information.
“I can’t give you an exact time, it’s multiple health officials involved so I have to get a time from the others, so I don’t have an exact time,” he said.
“There has been instances where we would have short notice as well,” Parasram said.
“All those vaccines prior would have come to the Ministry of Health as well and gone into the hands of the principal pharmacist,” he said.
He did not say whether or not any of the other vaccines had to also be bonded while waiting for relevant documentation.
On Saturday, hours before the vaccines arrived, the Prime Minister spoke at the Ministry of Health’s update and gave no indication that this Pfizer shipment was expected.
“It is not that we weren’t aware that it was coming but when it actually landed and it was in the possession of Customs we spoke to Customs and we went ahead and took it from them and put it in a bonded area,” the CMO said.
“The Ministry of National Security would have been in contact with their counterpart in the US and therefore received a donation and I think Minister Hinds referred to it as a gift,” he said, which is similar to what National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said over the weekend about the vaccines.
“There was communique between the two Ministry of National Security and their counterparts in the US,” Parasram said.
“That donation was forthcoming to them, we were alerted as the Ministry of Health with responsibility for two things, the importation of vaccines as well as the regulation of vaccines,” he said.
On Sunday Hinds confirmed that he accepted a gift of 80 vials of Pfizer vaccines to be used by an arm of his ministry.
The 80 vials translate to approximately 400 doses, enough to vaccinate 200 people.
The vials entered the country on Saturday night but unlike all previous vaccine gifts, this one was only acknowledged by the State after it landed in the country and information about it began spreading on social media.
Unlike previous vaccine gifts, this one was claimed by National Security and not the Ministries of Foreign Affairs or Health.
On Sunday the Ministry of National Security issued two media statements, the first saying that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago received the gift of vaccines. It gave no indication of the size of the gift but stated that it was no different from vaccine gifts received from St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados, Bermuda and India and China.
A second release hours later deleted all the countries that donated thousands of vaccines for public use and instead simply said the Ministry of National Security accepted the small gift of vaccines.
Hinds, in a subsequent telephone interview on Sunday, said that it was the 80 vials donated by the US Government for an arm of National Security.
Neither Hinds nor Minister Amery Browne responded to calls for more information.