Vaccine availability remains a hindrance to the Caribbean’s vaccination progress and may prolong the length of the pandemic.
This according to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley who spoke at a COVID-19 news briefing on Saturday afternoon.
“We want to purchase vaccines but they are not available to us.” he said, after announcing a State of Emergency to address surging virus cases and deaths.
The Prime Minister indicated that the country remains willing to use funds to purchase vaccines when supply is regularized. However, he said, vaccine availability remains an issue within the Caricom region. No Caribbean country, he said, has been able to use its private sector to purchase vaccines.
“None of these Caricom countries have been able to use their private sector to go out and buy a single vaccine dose for them. Not Trinidad and Tobago, not Jamaica, not Belize, not anybody in the Caricom because vaccines are not available for purchase…It is not that we have the vaccines and we are not using it, it is that the vaccines are available and we are not getting it. The availability of vaccines is part of the problems of response. Not only for us,” he said.
He said that conversations with countries such as the United States to acquire vaccines are underway. However, he said the US policy on vaccine distribution is currently that its own population must be satiated before it contributes to other countries.
Responding to critics who attributed rising cases to an availability of vaccines, he outlined vaccination figures for multiple countries.
Colonial territories which observed high levels of vaccinations, such as Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Montserrat, he said, are covered by countries like the United Kingdom.
“Territories like Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat are British colonies and in terms of receiving vaccines they are part of the British support and supply system. So, you will see that Anguilla would have got 10,000 vaccines available and you may say well how could Anguilla have 10,000 but Trinidad only has 60,000. Well, that 10,000 comes to Anguilla from England. Montserrat would have had 5000 vaccines and administered 2000 but Montserrat only has three and a half thousand people and they would have gotten their vaccines early o’clock from Britain,” he said.
Outside of this, he said, the majority of vaccines sent to the Caribbean were those gifted by other countries such as India. The size of these gifts, he said, were entirely the decision of the Indian Government. Without these gifts from India, he said, Caribbean countries would have not received a single vaccine up to April.
Between the months of February and April, he said, the second incoming of vaccines to the Caribbean territories were from the COVAX facility. The number of vaccines delivered through COVAX, he said, was not in accordance with population sizes. He said that he suspects the number of vaccines delivered to Trinidad was affected by its initially low caseload.
“This is interesting, you will see that Barbados would have gotten 33,000 same as Trinidad and Tobago even though Trinidad and Tobago’s population is three times that of Barbados. Jamaica would have got from the first COVAX 14,000 even though Jamaica’s population is twice Trinidad and Tobago’s. Interestingly enough Jamaica just about that same time had gotten 75,000 vaccines from South Africa because South Africa has shut down the use of AstraZeneca vaccines because of their variant situation and they had a few vaccines that were expiring and they gave Jamaica 75,000 of that.”
“… It is my view that Trinidad and Tobago is categorized in that way in the Americas because at the time when the decision was being made our COVID problem was not as bad as it is now. It was much better so we were actually being categorized to only get in this tranche the same amount as Antigua, or as Barbados or as Belize even though we had a larger population,” he said.
Outside of these arrangements, he said the only other vaccines brought into the Caribbean region were those not approved by the WHO.
“The only other vaccines that have been available to Caricom people in Guyana contrary to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago that decided that we were only going to use WHO approved vaccines, Guyana decided for reasons best known to them that they will use Sinopharm from China and Sputnik from Russia long before the WHO approved it and of course Guyana used 40,000 vaccines of that nature. They were the only Caricom countries outside of Dominica which also used 20,000 Sinopharm and St Vincent got Sputnik. We stayed with our policy of WHO approved vaccines,” he said.