Caribbean Community countries are shopping around the globe to acquire doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with some nations eying supplies from Cuba, China and the Middle East while hoping that the World Health Organization (WHO) could also help them obtain the medicine to begin vaccinations in the coming weeks.
The 15-nation bloc has even called for a global summit on the issue “to discuss equitable access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines,” saying that “the reality is that small states will find it difficult to compete in the marketplace to ensure equitable access for vaccines. “The inextricable link economically, socially, and by virtue of travel with our neighbors and the wider international community, makes it imperative for Caricom member states to be afforded access to vaccines as a matter of urgent priority. This action will be mutually beneficial in breaking the transmission of the virus,” the bloc said in a recent statement.
Most of the larger nations, including The Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana and Suriname have stepped up efforts to fly in supplies and some leaders like Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados have moved to lead by example taking the first dose from a small number of supplies the island acquired in the last month.
Trinidadian colleague Keith Rowley has, as well, publicly vowed to also lead the way when doses arrive in his oil and gas-rich twin island republic with Tobago. In most of the countries in the region, leaders have already said that taking the stab in the arm would not be in any way mandatory.
Over the weekend, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali says authorities are working toward eventual herd immunity even as China has offered to donate 20,000 doses of its version of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are pursuing all avenues to get as much vaccines to cover the population as quickly as possible. China has confirmed that it will be donating 20,000 doses of vaccines to Guyana. Discussions are ongoing and arrangements to acquire vaccines from these countries will be finalized shortly.” Distribution will be free Ali said.
In neighboring Trinidad, PM Rowley urged locals to prepare to take the vaccine, reminding citizens that they have nothing to fear.
“As long as it is signed off by WHO as the scientific product for this purpose, I have no hesitation in taking it myself or recommending it for my family. There is nothing that you can offer to the world that will get 100% support from the human population and therefore, I will not be fazed by the comments about what vaccines we can and cannot get.”
Meanwhile, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has approved a $20 million loan to The Bahamas to acquire stocks and improve institutional capacity to deal with the pandemic IDB President Mauricio Claver Carone said.
“This will facilitate access to the vaccine, it will also create an executing agency for it that is going to strengthen the Ministry of Health. Of that $20 million, $4.5 million is to be directly allocated to the purchase of the vaccine and the remainder will go toward the infrastructure surrounding its distribution. We feel very confident. We have been working very closely with the Bahamian authorities in order to execute this plan. We don’t want it to be reactive, we want to be proactive.”
The efforts to acquire vaccines comes as several countries including Suriname, St. Vincent, Barbados and The Bahamas have either extended nighttime curfews or have moved to tighten regulations regarding commercial and social activities among their citizens as positive numbers have spiked in the days after the Christmas holidays.
For those largely dependent on tourism, mass cancellations of tourists and business flights from Canada and The United Kingdom have only served to pile on the economic fallout from the pandemic as commercial activities have been severely reduced.