Four days after he renewed calls for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help ensure equity of access to COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley revealed yesterday that “charlatans” are attempting to peddle vaccines to the government at inflated prices as high as US$25 per dose. What’s worse, he said, is that the culprits include members of the medical fraternity.
Dr Rowley made the revelation when he joined a Ministry of Health virtual press conference and responded to claims about the government’s perceived failure to acquire substantial doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
“There are people hanging around us here in Trinidad and Tobago, some nationals of Trinidad and Tobago and some of them in the medical fraternity, seeking to assist us with vaccine and they’re quoting prices to us, thinking that we’re in desperation, prices in the order $19 and $25 (US) a dose,” he said.
It’s difficult to say exactly how much a dose costs, but in India where the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is made, it costs $2.72 per dose, according to Unicef and National Public Radio research.
Dr Rowley said there has been at least one incident where someone purporting to be an agent for one of the largest manufacturers of the vaccine tried to get contracts locally to supply it.
“We have to be careful on those counts that we get good vaccines, certified vaccines, and that we are not taken by charlatans,” he warned.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh also warned that “there is a lot of fake vaccines out there.”
The press conference focused on the difficulties T&T faces as a small nation in acquiring vaccines on the global market.
“What is happening is that because of the limited supply of the vaccines available to the world and being produced on in two or three large, powerful countries, small countries are not even being allowed through the door to place the order,” Dr Rowley said in response to a claim by Caroni East MP Dr Rishad Seecharan that other Caricom countries are ahead of T&T in their vaccination drives.
Deyalsingh said some vaccine manufacturers are not even entertaining discussions with countries unless they are requisitioning some three million doses of the vaccine.
“There is no way Trinidad and Tobago even needs three million doses, can store three million doses, or pay for three million doses at the same time,” the minister said.
Dr Rowley said the 2,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines (AZD1222) gifted to the country by Barbados were to be administered to public officials but he instructed otherwise.
“I took the decision that I’d rather have a nurse or doctor or any caregiver in any one of our hospitals have that vaccine while I wait for mine,” he said, defending his decision not to receive his immunization from that batch of vaccines.
T&T is awaiting between 100,000 and 120,000initial doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX. While there is no concrete date as yet for its arrival, health officials say it should be in the country by the first week in March.
Government is also in direct talks with manufacturers, including Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Moderna and Sanofi, to acquire vaccines and is part of a Caricom initiative where T&T is registered as a purchaser of vaccines through the African Medicine Council.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Rowley renewed calls for a global meeting to be convened to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries—especially smaller ones like those in the Caribbean region.