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Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh

No Health Ministry funds have been allocated for the supply of any third booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine or for the new anti- COVID drug being manufactured by US pharmaceutical company Merck.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed this yesterday while answering Opposition queries on the health sector allocation in Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee examination of the 2022 budget.

He also said there is an ongoing rationalisation of medicine on Trinidad and Tobago Vital Essential Necessary Drugs list, but he assured this will not impact the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme or as its called CDAP.

Health received $ 5.4billion.

Deyalsingh was grilled by Opposition MPs including Rudranath Indarsingh, Rishi Seecheran, Rai Ragbir, Lackram Bodoe and Dave Tancoo.

With the Government challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic —but still able to protect the normal health system—Deyalsingh said things aren’t perfect anywhere in the world, “But we’re in a relatively good position.”

“As vaccination increases and COVID cases are reduced, things can start returning to normal, “But we still have a rolling daily average of over 200 cases,” he added.

Seecheran rebuked the lack of use of the Merck anti-viral drug which he said was a life-saving drug.

AP and other news services yesterday reported Merck has asked the US Food and Drug Administration to authorise the Merck-Ridgeback anti-Covid pill (molnupiravir) only for high risk adults and for mild to moderate COVID cases.

The experimental drug has been described as “promising” and is expected to be available overseas by year-end.

But Deyalsingh said Trinidad and Tobago was following WHO guidelines and the drug is still under clinical trial and not approved by WHO for COVID treatment.

He said if Government had heeded the Opposition on other drugs, “we’d have bought hydroxychloroquine and “killed people.”

On COVID vaccines, Deyalsingh said the current stock of AstraZeneca—which has a short expiry date—is October/November. Johnson and Johnson and Sinopharm supplies expire in June 2023.

The batch of Pfizer this country has was expected to expire in November but the World Health Organisation (WHO) and PAHO extended usage to February 2022.

He said this country paid (US)$300,000 for two tranches of AstraZeneca and a third was paid for by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

Sixty thousand Sinopharm vaccines were acquired under the Covax arrangement for (US)$388,095. But Deyalsingh couldn’t give information on Johnson and Johnson vaccine and latest Sinopharm acquisitions since these are under non-disclosure agreements.

On vacancies in the regional health authorities, Deyalsingh said there are 120 ( South West RHA), 82 (Eastern RHA), 17 ( North Central RHA), 29 (North West RHA). But he couldn’t give a figure for vacancies among nurses. Indarsingh berated him for that.

Deyalsingh agreed with Ragbir’s view that there are a lot of contraband drugs in Trinidad and Tobago especially from suitcase traders and Government must test its drugs. Deyalsingh assured CDAP drugs were not being cut but rationalisation being done will seek the best drugs for best outcomes.

He said, “We have taken that VEN lits in 2016, there were 857 items in the VEN list. In 2017, it was reduced by 57 items to 800. And that is what we are doing, taking off duplications, triplication, quadruplication, where you have the same drug because people come to the Advisory Committee and the Tenders Committee and advocate for their brand.”

Deyalsingh added the country has saved millions in the exercise, particularly with HIV drugs, where $70 million was saved.

Deyalsingh also clarified that there was a decrease in administrative funding for the Children’s Life Fund Authority, but that didn’t affect payments to send children overseas for life-saving surgeries.

On whether he was satisfied with the performance of the emergency ambulance service (GMRTT), he said supply for that service will be out for open tender and that will be examined there.

Deyalsingh also said he was not aware of any plans for a “new Chaguanas hospital” but a dialysis project at Couva was among plans for the Couva Hospital when it becomes a training facility.