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Rishard Khan

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Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) assistant director Dr Jarbas Barbosa cautiously estimates that a much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine may be available by mid-2021. But he noted that an exact date is yet to be determined.

Barbosa made the estimation during a Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) virtual media briefing on the COVAX facility yesterday.

Barbosa noted that while 10 of some 200 candidates for the vaccine were in the final stage of clinical trials, “they need to perform a lot of steps before being considered as meeting the standards for safety and efficacy.”

While explaining the various steps still required before one could be acquired, he indicated that at least two have had setbacks.

“So the vaccines – we have 10 that are in the final stage – in the clinical trial. Some, at least two of the vaccines, they had to pause the clinical trial to see if…one event that happened to a person was related or not related to (the) vaccine,” he said.

He also explained that successful vaccines would need to be vetted and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) among other steps.

“So realistically…we are talking about the first semester of 2021, probably between March and June,” Barbosa said.

In the meantime, Barbosa said people need to adhere to the proper safety protocols to protect themselves against the virus, such as proper hygiene, physical distancing and wearing masks.

Speaking in the Parliament on October 9, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh indicated that the Government had allocated US$9,741,237 (TT$66,142,999.23) for the purchase of vaccines.

He said while the Government has indicated to COVAX that it would like enough vaccines for 33 per cent of the population (462,000, COVAX would only deliver, in the first instance, enough for 20 per cent of the population (280,000).

“So in the first instance, we will get 280,000 vaccines. That will go initially to health care workers, the elderly, immunocompromised. Those are the persons that carry the brunt of the fallout of COVID. Therefore, in the second tranche, once production ramps up, we will get our other 182,000 doses of vaccines,” he said.

Also speaking during yesterday’s briefing was CARPHA executive director Dr Joy St. John, who indicated that they were able to make downpayments for vaccines through the COVAX facility on behalf of several member states via a grant made available to them by the European Union.

“We have been able to support Antigua, Barbados, BVI, Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Turks and Caicos Islands with 100 per cent of the down payment required for the COVAX facility. We have been able to support Suriname with 18 per cent the down payment for the facility,” she said.