Caricom and the Covid-19 vaccine

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By David  Comissiong

Barbados’ Ambassador to Caricom

There seems to be a perception out there that our Caribbean Community (Caricom) member states have not undertaken a collective Caricom initiative to secure Covid-19 vaccines for our region. Nothing could be further from the truth!

I would therefore like to briefly inform the Barbadian and other Caribbean people about the three major collective Caricom-based vaccine initiatives in which all of our member states are engaged. They are as follows:-

1. The WHO/COVAX Scheme

All Caricom member states have signed on to the vaccine component of the World Health Organization’s “Access to Covid-19 Tools” programme known as COVAX. Under this Programme, our Caricom member states will receive some twenty per cent of their vaccine needs. Furthermore, Caricom member states that are designated as “Low Income Countries” will receive their vaccines free of cost, while “Middle Income Countries” will have to pay – but at the best prices available internationally.

2.The AU’s Medical Supplies Platform

Cognizant of the fact that our Vaccine needs extend beyond the COVAX programme, Caricom, with the assistance of Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus of the WHO, negotiated with the African Union (AU) to purchase a quantity of vaccines on the AU’s Medical Supplies Platform. This negotiation has led the AU to carve out 1.5 million of their 250 million vaccine purchase, and to allocate these vaccines to our Caricom nations. And because the AU purchase is such a massive one, it means that – once again- our member states are benefiting from some of the cheapest prices available internationally.

3. The PAHO Programme

The standard institution through which our Caricom states access and purchase vaccines is the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Covid-19 vaccine is no exception. Thus, after having utilized the COVAX and AU mechanisms, our Caricom member states will be able to access additional vaccines through PAHO – once again, at some of the best prices available internationally.

And so, Caribbean people can rest assured that, after some 53 years of the Carifta/Caricom experience, our governments are well aware of the benefits of collective action!

Indeed, I would like our people to know that from the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic our governments have undertaken a collective, Caricom-based response to the crisis, led by such regional institutions as the Caricom Secretariat, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the UWI Covid-19 Task Force, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Regional Security System (RSS), and PAHO, among others.

Of course, in addition to the three Caricom-based initiatives outlined above, there was the greatly appreciated donation of Covid-19 vaccines by the government of India to various Caricom nations. This fortuitous development was rooted in the close relationship that exists between the Prime Minister of Dominica – Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit – and the Government and Prime Minister of India.

This relationship has been leveraged by Prime Ministers Skerrit, Mottley and Browne, among others, to deliver hundreds of thousands of free vaccines to the various countries of our region. And to the credit of our political leaders, they have opted to share their vaccine gifts with fellow Caricom member states!

Finally, there is the beckoning Cuban Covid-19 vaccine. Our Caribbean civilization is fortunate to have a member nation that possesses the technical capacity to create a vaccine to respond to this deadly virus. Cuba is now in the final phase of testing its “Soberana 02” vaccine, and it is confidently expected that this vaccine will receive WHO certification and be available by September of this year. And, needless to say, a number of Caricom nations, inclusive of Barbados, are making arrangements to access the Cuban vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

It also needs to be noted that our Caricom Heads of Government have publicly expressed their disgust and dismay at the manner in which a number of powerful and wealthy nations have been seeking to monopolise the world’s stock of Covid-19 vaccines, to the great distress and disadvantage of relatively small developing countries like our CAribbean nations. This has led Caricom to officially request that the WHO organise a Global Summit to address the issue of equitable access by all countries to the world’s stock of Covid-19 vaccines.Thoughts and views expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer NewsCo, its management or staff.

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