Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh, left, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister Maurice Suite listen to the call between PM Rowley and China President Xi Jinping via teleconference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, yesterday.

China is stepping in to assist Trinidad and Tobago’s access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The China-made vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm is currently awaiting the World Health Organisation (WHO) approval but access to it was discussed during a virtual meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and China President Xi Jinpeng yesterday.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Amery Browne was also present at the meeting and said the discussion was very productive.

“The meeting also included specific dialogue on COVID-19 and on ongoing efforts by both nations to control the infection and keep our respective populations safe,” Browne told Guardian Media yesterday.

Browne said President Xi thanked Prime Minister Rowley “for our provision of a consignment of PPE to China early in the year 2020” and “took the opportunity to indicate that China would respectfully assist our national efforts to access approved COVID-19 vaccines in the near future.”

“Prime Minister Rowley reaffirmed the critical importance of equitable access to approved COVID-19 vaccines for the people of our nation and region and across the globe,” Browne said.

Browne said China’s Ambassador here in T&T, Fang Qiu, had ”been an excellent and proactive partner in working with us to organise and coordinate this important meeting.”

“This morning’s (yesterday’s) discussions were enhanced by our strong history of good relations with the People’s Republic of China, and further enhanced by the friendship enjoyed by the two Heads of Government over the years,” he said.

He said both leaders also acknowledged the longstanding bonds between T&T and China, “and explored opportunities to further advance our bilateral cooperation across a range of sectors.”

However, Browne said plans to utilise the Chinese vaccine were not new.

“The intention has always been to consider all available vaccines, depending on availability and prospective approval by the World Health Organisation,” Browne said.

“This policy takes into account vaccines that would be approved in the future, as well as there are several in development at this time as vaccine science continues to advance.”

India’s Serum Institute, which manufactures the Oxford AstraZeneca, was granted WHO approval on February 15. Browne said discussions for that vaccine began before it was approved but the order was only placed after the WHO approval.

India has been shipping and donating that vaccine throughout the world, giving some 500,000 to Caricom alone.

T&T is also part of the COVAX facility and is expected to receive 33,600 vaccines, one-third of the promised 108,000 within the next few days. Jamaica was the first Caribbean country to receive its batch of 14,400 doses on Monday.

Yesterday’s meeting comes weeks Rowley wrote to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 23 on the issue of donations and purchase of vaccines.

On Friday, Rowley was asked for an update on the request but said there was none to give.