People enroll their names to be administered the Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine during a special vaccination drive in Hyderabad, India, last Thursday.

Renuka Singh

Gavi, the vaccine alliance, has confirmed that Trinidad and Tobago does not qualify for a share of the 500 million vaccines promised by the United States to the COVAX facility.

A representative from the body that handles the COVAX facility confirmed this last week after Guardian Media sought clarification on whether T&T would be getting any of the vaccines, which are meant only for donor-funded countries.

“Trinidad & Tobago is a self-financing participant of the COVAX Facility and as you will be able to see in our statement, the doses will be made available to 92 economies eligible for donor-funded vaccines via the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), as well as member states of the African Union,” the Gavi representative said in a statement.

On June 10, US President Joe Biden announced the donations which Gavi welcomed.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also referred to the vaccines promised by the US during Saturday’s COVID-19 media briefing, saying that it was a promise that had not materialised yet. However, he noted that “we have not seen anything come through and we don’t know if we will be qualified.”

While the Prime Minister was unsure on whether T&T would qualify for the donated doses, the Gavi official confirmed that as a self-financing part of the Covax facility, T&T was out of the running for the donated jabs.

“Under the plan, 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be delivered in 2021, starting in August, with another 300 million shipped in the first half of 2022.

“The 500 million doses outlined in this plan are separate from an earlier decision by the US Government to share 80 million doses starting in June as part of a broader global vaccine sharing strategy,” the Gavi spokesperson said in the statement to Guardian Media.

With regards to how the vaccines will be distributed, the Gavi spokesperson said the COVAX facility aimed to “secure access to vaccines for all participating economies using an allocation framework formulated by World Health Organisation (WHO).”

“Our priorities at the moment are making sure that vaccines reach the groups of the population that need them the most as quickly as possible,” the Gavi spokesperson said.

The Gavi spokesperson said, however, that even if a country purchases vaccines bilaterally, it does not exclude them from participating in COVAX.

T&T has received two tranches of vaccines from the COVAX facility totalling 67,200. T&T also received a donation of 100,000 Sinopharm vaccines from China and purchased another 100,00o that landed in the country last week. It has also received donations from Caricom neighbours Barbados (2,000), Grenada (10,000) and St Vincent and the Grenadines (5,500).

Rowley, as Caricom chair, held virtual meetings with US Congresswoman Maxine Waters in March and was one of four leaders to have calls with US Vice President Kamala Harris earlier this month. On June 3, Harris spoke with the political leaders from Mexico, Guatemala, India and Rowley. In those calls, Harris notified each leader that the US would begin sharing 25 million doses from its 80 million dose pledge.

According to international reports, of this donation, the Caribbean and Latin America will share 6 million doses and 19 million through COVAX. This 80 million donation, however, is separate from the new 500 million donations to the COVAX facility.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert has since revealed that T&T paid for 500,000 vaccines from China.

Guardian Media asked both Rowley and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh whether being left out of the donation would impede the plans for vaccine rollout but neither responded.

However, Guardian Media has learned that a separate arrangement is being made by the US to donate vaccines to Caricom through the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). The details have not been completed yet.