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Regional President at bpTT Clair Fitzpatrick with Public Utlities Minister Robert Le Hunte, left and Energy Minister, Franklin Khan during the first day of the TT Energy Conference 2020, Hyatt Regency, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.

Energy Minister Franklin Khan, 63, has died. Khan, who has been suffering from heart problems for years, was last seen by his relatives around 11.30 pm last Friday before retiring to bed. Police reports stated that they awoke at 6.30 am yesterday and went looking for him to have their regular morning coffee, but they found his body unresponsive in his chair. Khan’s body bore no marks of violence.

Khan, who was reportedly in good health, received his AstraZeneca vaccination on Tuesday at the Diego Martin Health Facility.

But even as the country mourns his surprise passing, questions are being asked about whether the AstraZeneca vaccine which he received four days prior may have played a part in his sudden death.

Questions about the possible role the vaccination may have played in his death were amplified in the wake of the death of pensioner Ijaz Haniff last week as well.

A few countries have initiated probes into the AstraZeneca vaccine after complaints of clotting. Haniff, a heart patient under the SouthWest Regional Health Authority’s (SWRHA) care, developed blood clots and paralysis within days of taking his jab shot. He died eight days after his first injection.

The SWRHA is still investigating Hannif’s case but said initial evidence suggested no link between the vaccine and his death. However, Hannif’s relatives insisted that the doctors who were treating him at the San Fernando General Hospital said the only thing they could attribute to the clotting was the vaccine.

As citizens mourned Khan’s passing yesterday, the issue was foremost on their minds.

In 2017 Khan was on vacation in Thailand when it was reported that he had suffered a heart attack. It was later clarified that while he did not have a heart attack, he did have a heart-related issue and was resting at home.

At yesterday’s Ministry of Health COVID-19 update, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram was asked whether Khan received the COVID-19 vaccine and whether he was a point of contact for the Prime Minister. Parasram referred those questions to either the Office of the Prime Minister or the Ministry of Energy.

“Condolences to the family. Any information related to the honourable minister will be coming from either the Office of the Prime Minister or the line ministry of that particular minister,” Parasram said.

In the past two weeks, Khan was front and centre on two important matters. As Minister of Energy, he was the point person for the investigation into the explosion and subsequent fire at NiQuan Energy in Point Lisas and as Leader of Government Business, the Opposition was in contact with him to get the Parliament chamber sanitised since Prime Minister Rowley had attended a sitting within the 14 days of being diagnosed with the Coronavirus.

The Opposition was also pushing for Khan to be tested for the disease since he was in close proximity to the Prime Minister at an energy event days before the PM was diagnosed as positive.

While there is currently no evidence to support the theory that the COVID vaccine may be creating complications for heart patients, former Arima mayor Ghassan Youseph posted a warning on social media about his concerns as a heart patient who took the vaccine.

Youseph claims he took the vaccine on Thursday and one day later his heart went into “atrial fibrillation” or an abnormal beat.

“Yesterday (Thursday), I took the AstraZeneca vaccine, checking my heart rhythm with a machine acquired three years ago, where I check every morning on the heartbeat, is saying it seems this morning that my heart went into Atrial Fibrillation,” he said.

He warned people who suffer from this condition to check with their doctor before taking the vaccine.

“Hopefully, the heart will go back into a normal rhythm soon, I will keep you updated,” he said.

Many of Khan’s colleagues either took to social media or issued media releases expressing their shock at this sudden loss.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley described Khan as a “patriot” and “a son of the soil” and offered his “deepest condolences” to Khan’s family.

Rowley said he was “extremely saddened” by the passing of his colleague and friend and said Khan would be remembered as a man who dedicated his life to public service.

“May God bring comfort and strength to his loved ones,” Rowley posted on social media.

One former government senator took to social media to describe seeing Khan at the Nylon Pool, Tobago, just days ago and said he always offered great advice.

Minister of Rural Development Kazim Hosein reportedly told another media house that he spoke with Khan on Friday night and all was well. Khan, he said, was not ailing and did not indicate that he was unwell.

Former energy minister under the People’s Partnership government Kevin Ramnarine also offered his condolences, saying that he was “saddened” by Khan’s passing.

“In recent times we had developed a cordial relationship. I offer my condolences and sympathy to his family and loved ones. May he rest in peace,” Ramnarine said.

Social media speculations

Some people on social media outright questioned whether he died from COVID-19 while others questioned why his vaccination was not being discussed more openly.

One social media user said “so wait, we not talking about his vaccination a few days ago?”

Another said “I hope you’ll taking notes…persons with heart disease die after being vaccinated.”

Another was adamant “not me, I eh taking it”. Yet another said “when I heard of his passing the first question came to mind was ‘did he take the vaccine?’ Now it’s as clear as day.”

One other person said the Government could “keep the vac and store it.”

Another person shared the same story under the caption “open your eyes.”

‘Colourful political history’

The late Franklin Khan enjoyed a colourful political history. Long before taking up the role of Minister of Energy, Khan entered politics in 2002 and was appointed minister of works and transport by the late former prime minister Patrick Manning.

In 2015, when the People’s National Movement won the elections, Khan was named minister of rural development and local government and one year later was reshuffled into the Energy Ministry.

He retained that post after the 2020 general election.

Back in 2005, a former PNM councillor, Dansam Dhansook accused Khan of corruption.

Khan was charged following allegations he accepted bribes from Dhansook in exchange for contracts from 2001 to 2003.

The charges were dropped in 2010 though after Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard found Dansook to be an unreliable witness.

More recently, in February Khan faced off against the Opposition United National Congress’s (UNC) no-confidence motion and calls for his resignation. The Opposition based its calls on Khan’s failure to properly manage the energy sector, especially the shutdown and attempt to sell the Petrotrin refinery to the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU).

Khan defended himself at the time, saying that he was not impressed or particularly bothered by the motion.

One month later in March, the Opposition slammed Khan again, describing him as “comatose” in his handling of the energy sector amid the pandemic. Again, Khan was unbothered.

Just days ago, Opposition Senator Wade Mark said that he wrote to Khan asking him about the sanitisation of the Parliamentary chamber after it was revealed that Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley contracted COVID-19. Mark said that Khan called him to tell him sanitisation of the chamber was unnecessary.

The Opposition also called then for Khan and several other Government members to be tested for the virus.