Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley during the “Conversations with the Prime Minister” on Thursday at the Mt Hope/Mt Lambert Community Centre.

Rishard Khan

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says the Government has turned down a COVID-19 vaccine gift offer from a local conglomerate.

Speaking during a “Conversations with the Prime Minister” event on Thursday night, Rowley said the decision was taken because the Government did not agree with the terms of the deal.

“One conglomerate offered the Government, I think it was a gift, of a large amount of vaccines…I think it was early in February that the offer was made that they would help us get vaccines. But the conditions were such that the Government would have to provide to the company $8 million US to get the vaccines,” Rowley said.

However, he said it wasn’t the access to the finances which broke the deal but the other condition that came with the offer.

“Good, then maybe a corporate Trinidad and Tobago entity can do what the Government can’t do. Of course, in many instances that is so…but then we had to turn down that offer because it carried with it a request for a tax write-off to that action and the write-off to take place in 2021…well of course the Government had to turn that down.”

Rowley said the conglomerate also requested that a similar concession be offered to any other local company able to do the same for the Government.

The Prime Minister said a month later, the conglomerate had access to one million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. He said the conglomerate offered to give the Government 50,000 doses free of charge for administration to the public. Some, he said, would be used to inoculate their staff members and the rest would be sold.

He justified the revelation as a forewarning to the population that the conglomerate would make the Government look bad when the time comes.

“I have every reason to believe that you would read it in the newspapers, or see it on the television, or hear it on the radio. But you would hear it in the context that the Government is not doing its job and we are doing it for you,” he said, alluding to the conglomerate’s ownership of a media house.

“When you see it, you would have heard it from me because all of these are things that are going on right now.”

Rowley reiterated that once private entities import and distribute World Health Organisation-approved vaccines through the proper channels and protocols “there is no problem.” However, he questioned where the entity was acquiring the doses given the Government’s own difficulties.

“The question is if the local private sector is saying we can get vaccines, then of course if it is good vaccines, with all the pedigree identified and so on, then maybe they better than the Government. As of now, I have not seen that anywhere in the region where the private sector has been able to get vaccines and the government has not been able to get,” he said.

The Prime Minister did not name the conglomerate.

Rowley also said he was told by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the country may not be able to receive the complete first batch of 33,600 doses come the end of the month.

T&T was allocated 100,800 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX facility over a month ago. However, the country was never given a date of delivery.

Over the following weeks, the date shifted to the end of March and the delivery was split in two, with the first batch of 33,600 doses expected to arrive by the end of March.

“I was in my contact with WHO, which telling me it appears as though we would not be able in the COVAX to deliver even that. It would be even less,” he said.

But this bad news, he said, also was not certain.

“The schedule for the Caribbean for CARICOM, the numbers are there. As of 48 hours ago, those numbers were significantly reduced. It might very well be that Trinidad and Tobago might still have 33,000 doses but many of our colleagues have had their numbers reduced and we are still on track to receive our first COVAX vaccines by the end of March,” Rowley said.

The Prime Minister said at one point he was given an exact date for the shipment arrival but has not since gotten any confirmation.

“As I speak to you now, we have no confirmation that on March 22 we gonna get vaccines.”

He said the lack of any sort of confirmations of a shipment “is making us believe that COVAX has not been able to access (doses).”

Rowley said the issue for T&T is the country’s order has been assigned to the manufacturer, SKBio, in South Korea, which has not been able to produce the number of doses it had hoped.

“Trinidad and Tobago, we are part of a world problem. However you slice it, however you dice it, vaccines are not available for purchase,” he said.