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 Commentary: A Vaccine Debacle

Commentary: A Vaccine Debacle

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By Neil Gosine

IT’S a sad day for this country when corporate Trinidad and Tobago responds to the call, a plea really, from the government to assist it in saving the lives of our citizens.

All of a sudden, the government wants private sector help to purchase Covid-19 vaccines. Before, it was procuring all the vaccines we needed on its own. So what has happened to cause  this turnaround.

Following the debacle in recent days with ANSA McAL and the Supermarket Association of T&T interaction with the government, the public would have been left with the impression that corporate T&T was acting unfairly and benefitting tremendously.

After the release by the ANSA’s Chief Executive Officer Anthony N Sabga III, on his group’s corporate offer to the government to pay US$8.4 million for 351,000 Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of T&T, the country is left none the wiser.

The average right thinking person is left scratching his or her head in confusion.

Why would the Dr Rowley-led Government refuse such help?

Why would they infer that the company’s request for the foreign exchange be made available so the payment could be made on time was unfair and unreasonable request?


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And why would they consider a big deal the request of the company, and for any private sector entity contributing to the purchase of these vaccines for public use, be applied as a credit against taxes payable for the income year 2021? This tax concession was nothing new or strange.

The offer was to fund the entire cost of the Pfizer vaccine order and knowing that this government and governments around the world routinely motivate business humanitarian efforts through tax incentives, they were requesting the same consideration be made.

Mind you, they were not demanding, they were requesting. Then why this big public revelation and inference of an unreasonable request that is beneficial alone to ANSA McAL?

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In a backdrop of the prime minister complaining of unfair availability of vaccines to smaller countries like T&T and “vaccine apartheid” and when a company steps up to the plate to show their corporate social responsibility to the government and the nation, they are berated, publicly humiliated and have to make a release themselves to clear up the misconception in the public domain.

Why wasn’t this done behind closed doors and a reasonable solution hammered out instead in a public forum.

Is there another preferred company that the government prefers to deal with, I am just asking?

For the life of me, I just can’t understand with all the difficulties encountered so far by the government to acquire the vaccines for T&T. How come they could not accept any reasonable offer for assistance that they made themselves where they requested from corporate T&T. It just doesn’t make sense.

As it stands, we have no idea of the date when the COVAX vaccines would arrive in Trinidad and Tobago as the dates keep changing. (Editor’s note: This column was written before reporting on arrival of COVAX vaccine to T&T).

And the Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has to keep defending the government’s position on his plan to get the Covid-19 vaccines from COVAX and the public’s confidence in the government’s vaccination plan seems to have withered away.

So far it has been misinformation, misconceptions, delivering date changes and no clear policy on how to acquire jabs to vaccinate 70% of our population to create herd immunity.

After all this hullabaloo by the government we finally saw a headline stating Vaccine Truce and Deyalsingh willing to work with the private sector.

However, the public is still scratching heads over why such a big hullabaloo. Why the public shaming and vituperation?

The ANSA McAL group did not responded further to the minister of health again after his response that the government never requested assistance from the private sector for the purchase of vaccines

A situation of he said she said and a very bizarre situation indeed.

Further, why this perceived prejudice against this corporate entity, as any right thinking individual one would expect that the government would work with corporate T&T and accept any reasonable offer, as any delay means lives may be lost.

I would like to applaud corporate T&T and the ANSA McAL group of companies for heeding the call to support the government in their challenges to acquire vaccines and as stated the only way forward to return this country to any semblance of normalcy is by vaccinating the population now.

 

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