THE Prime Minister sought to assure the population about the vaccines being developed against covid19 by saying he would volunteer to be the first person in TT to take a vaccine when it arrives.
He spoke at a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s on Wednesday.
Dr Rowley vowed to be “first in line” for the vaccine, at which Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh chimed in, “And I’ll be second.”
“Vaccinations have been with us and they have been shown to work. I trust the rigours of the scientific input at the labs.
”So when WHO signs off on what is acceptable as a vaccine for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I will be the first in line to have my vaccine,” Rowley said.
Deyalsingh said TT is expected to get doses of the vaccine in March via the Covax facility and was unperturbed by the timing.
“Any vaccine we purchase through the Covax facility, as opposed to having a bilateral arrangement with the manufacturer, is going to be significantly cheaper because you are pooling resources. And the commitment to Covax is to sell your vaccines at the lowest possible price.”
He reckoned the Covax price could be one-tenth the cost of buying directly from the manufacturer. Deyalsingh said the so-called delay in TT getting the vaccine could be made to work to our benefit.
“In real-life testing now, what is called post-market surveillance where instead of testing it in phase three on 30,000 or 40,000, you are now testing it on hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of people.
“It means that any potential rare side effects will now come out in the wash now. So when we get it in March, we’ll have more safety data to look at.”
Rowley said the return of children to school is an objective and if possible would be a giant step, but would all depend on the prevalence of covid19 in the general population.
“If the numbers are good, we are not going to wait for the vaccination (in March) to bring some students out. If the numbers are not good, we certainly will not expose the children to an unvaccinated population when a vaccine is around the corner.” He said changes may be made to suit the situation.
Rowley said if covid19 spreads a lot over Christmas and the New Year, this increase would show up in early January.
“When we look at those curves we will know what we are facing then, and the Government will have to take a decision, what do we do with school children in this school term in this situation.”
He said a factor will be how well the vaccine handles the new strain of covid19, including whether the vaccine could be tweaked to respond to the variant. Noting a 31 per cent rise in mental illness in the US during the pandemic, the PM said a return to school in would help the mental health of TT’s students.
Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said manufacturer Pfizer needs two weeks to see how efficacious its vaccine is against the new strain of covid19.
Even amid the promise of vaccines, Deyalsingh said the pandemic was still accelerating, with 16 countries each having over one million cases of infection, with two more set to soon join this list. He said tenders have gone out to build a cold storage facility at Couva to house the vaccines, even as TT now has three minus-72 degrees Celsius freezers and two minus-20 degrees Celsius freezers.