COVID-19 vaccines: International cooperation needed to ensure Caribbean countries have equal access

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Peggy Walters is a Global Health communications, policy and partnership consultant and Director of Third Voice Communications.

By Peggy Walters

@PeggyWalters_

Calls have been growing for a concerted global effort to ensure that every country has access to COVID-19 vaccines, when it was revealed last month that 10 countries have administered 75 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

The World Health Organisation-backed COVAX initiative, has stepped up its efforts, releasing details of the numbers of COVID-19 vaccine doses it aims to provide to participating countries by the end of May. It plans to deliver 237 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines to 142 nations, including many countries in the Caribbean region, over the next three months as it accelerates rollout.

The new figures show The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, will receive 100,800 doses each. The Dominican Republic is to receive 463,200 doses, while there will be 124,800 doses for Jamaica. Other Caribbean countries included in this phased rollout include Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname. Some countries have larger populations so they will receive more doses.

The allocation was determined by the World Health Organization panel of experts and GAVI, taking a big step towards equal access to COVID-19 vaccines. For Small Island States, that have no bilateral deals with manufacturers, and who would otherwise be unable to afford these vaccines, the COVAX initiative is a hugely significant mechanism by which governments can get their citizens vaccinated.

Cuba has also stepped into the global efforts to create and distribute COVID-19  vaccines. The island nation is starting final-stage trials of two new vaccines. The Soberana 2 and Abdala vaccines have been developed in the country, with initial results expected in May. If successful, the vaccines would be used for the local population, and the remainder available for export at cost with a small margin to support its free universal healthcare system.

Access to all of these COVID-19 vaccines have come at a crucial time in the arc of the pandemic in the Caribbean region. For most countries, the effect of the pandemic last year represents the deepest, single year economic contraction since 1975. The decline in tourism has been sharp, with The Bahamas and Barbados reporting drops in arrivals of 68 percent and 66 percent last year. So far this year, air travel remains low, with many tourists experiencing travel restrictions. The need to open up Caribbean economies is urgent. Future tourism prospects are dependent on global efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. Getting vaccines into the arms of Caribbeans, to flatten the curve of the virus and save lives, offers an increasingly bright light at the end of the tunnel.

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