A virtual meeting on Tuesday between the Prime Minister and China President Xi Jinping set the stage for Trinidad and Tobago to receive covid19 vaccines from China, amid uncertainties over other sources of vaccines.
A statement by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said Dr Rowley received a call from Xi via teleconference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's. The office said their discussions centred on several matters of mutual interest.
Also at the meeting were Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne, Minister of National Security and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister Maurice Suite.
Browne, in a text message to Newsday, said: "The meeting with President Xi was very productive."
He said the meeting included specific dialogue on covid19 and both nations' efforts to control the infection and keep their respective populations safe.
"President Xi thanked the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for our provision of a consignment of PPE (personal protective equipment) to China early in the year 2020, and took the opportunity to indicate that China would respectfully assist our national efforts to access approved covid19 vaccines in the near future.”
Browne said Rowley reaffirmed the critical importance of equitable access to approved vaccines for TT, the region, and the world and noted that the Sinopharm vaccine is currently being considered for approval by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The ambassador of China has been an excellent and proactive partner helping TT to organise the meeting, Browne added.
He said the talks were enhanced by TT's strong history of good relations with China, and by the friendship of Xi and Rowley over the years.
Deyalsingh opted not to comment, advising Newsday to seek details from the OPM.
A Chinese Embassy official promised to seek replies to queries about Xi's enthusiasm to help TT.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram told Newsday TT has signed bilateral agreements with non-disclosure clauses, but also said it was public knowledge that the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines were now candidates before the WHO for emergency use authorisation (EUA) status.
"They haven't got it as yet, but we hope in the near future they shall," Parasram said.
"Countries have been purchasing vaccines outside of the emergency use authorisation – even countries like the US and UK. They have gone through their own regulatory process."
Parasram said some countries including the US and UK have purchased these vaccines outside of those being approved for EUA status, but TT's policy will continue, that is, to only use vaccines approved by the WHO. He said a whole-of-government approach is used to source vaccines, involving several ministries.
"Traditionally the CMO is responsible, chairs the Drug Advisory Committee which is responsible for making a recommendation to the (health) minister for actual registration of new vaccines into the country. My main other role is to chair the national technical advisory group for vaccines." He said this group decides which population groups to vaccinate.
Parasram said the CMO's role as the health ministry's main technical officer is to look at the technical details presented by any vaccine manufacturer and then make a recommendation.
Elsewhere, Reuters has reported Sinopharm's unit in Wuhan presented a 72 per cent efficacy rate in phase III (large scale) clinical trials. German news agency DW reported a 79 per cent efficacy but rising to 86 per cent in the United Arab Emirates, but with a patient in Peru suffering arm paralysis after getting the jab.
The Sinopharm website carries an interview in January with company chairman Liu Jingzhen who said ten million doses were administered across China. Sinopharm produced 100 million doses last year, and aimed for a billion doses this year, the interview added.
The Sinovac vaccine’s efficacy ranged from 91 per cent in Indonesia, 65 per cent in Turkey, and 50-78 per cent in Brazil. Other efficacies were: AstraZeneca (62-90 per cent), Moderna (95 per cent), Pfizer (95 per cent) and Sputnick (92 per cent.)
On July 24 last year, China offered Latin America and the Caribbean a US$1 billion loan facility to buy vaccines.
Sinopharm vaccines are used in China, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Serbia and Peru, and Sinova vaccines in China, Bolivia, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil and Chile.