Sun | Sep 19, 2021

VACCINE CRY TO BIDEN - CARICOM appeals to US, says being ‘squeezed out’ by rich countries

Published:Friday | February 26, 2021 | 12:17 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
CARICOM Chairman Dr Keith Rowley.
CARICOM Chairman Dr Keith Rowley.

The Dr Keith Rowley-chaired Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will write to the Biden administration in a matter of days appealing to Washington to share with states within the region supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.

Rowley, who is also prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, contended that if the CARICOM region were deprived of vaccines for too long, variants could spread further and undo the efforts of the United States to inoculate its own population from the highly contagious virus.

He was fielding questions from journalists on Thursday following a two-day virtual meeting of the 32nd Inter-Sessional meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government.

“We have taken a decision that CARICOM will write directly to our partners in North America, pointing out to them that because of the requirement of us to be healthy, so that they can be healthy, that they consider sharing with us some from their sources so that we, too, can very quickly take control of the virus,” Rowley asserted.

CARICOM leaders will also engage lawmakers in Congress in an effort to bolster their lobby to secure a favourable response from Washington.

At the same time, Rowley did not mask CARICOM’s disquiet with the manner in which countries with deep pockets have purchased supplies of COVID-19 vaccines surplus to their population’s need. He said this denied smaller developing states such as those in the Caribbean from accessing vaccines.

“Large suppliers and the major countries have bought all the supplies, and the suppliers are telling us that they are unable to access orders from us because of their commitments to those who have access to those vaccines, so you will see a strong statement from CARICOM on this,” Rowley charged.

Besides islands that are colonially aligned overseas territories, only Barbados and Dominica – with 100,000 and 70,000 doses, respectively – have received substantial shipments through bilateral agreements with India. Others have benefited from Barbados’ largesse with gifts of 1,000 or 2,000 doses. Others like St Vincent and the Grenadines have received a token tot of 20 doses.

The CARICOM chairman also divulged that some suppliers of the AstraZeneca vaccine have indicated that they are willing to offer small supplies but noted that the contractual arrangement would have to be confidential.

Rowley signalled that there was a significant discrepancy in the prices at which vaccines were being sold.

He said that CARICOM refused to remain silent on the issue and would issue a strong statement expressing the regional bloc’s concern and dissatisfaction with the way “we have literally been squeezed out in terms of access to vaccines”.

Rowley indicated that CARICOM would take its complaint both to the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

While acknowledging that there was a world shortage of vaccines, the CARICOM chairman said that what had been put in place to allow countries across the region to access vaccines has not been working.

“Up to now, the region has not been able to access any other vaccines even though we anticipate that in the next few days, we will hear when we will get our first COVAX (supply),” he said.

In a statement Thursday evening, CARICOM heads declared that while the COVAX facility would provide up to 20 per cent of members’ needs, this limited supply would not allow member states to attain herd immunity.

Herd immunity requires inoculation rates of 70-80 per cent.

“Heads of government, therefore, call for a mechanism that allows smaller countries to have access to sufficient vaccines at the earliest juncture if action is to be put behind the oft-repeated phrase that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.