By Shermain Bique-Charles
China is offering loans to the Caribbean to enable the region to purchase Covid-19 vaccines it hopes to have ready before the end of the year.
The move comes a fortnight after the Antigua and Barbuda government gave the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) authority to secure Covid-19 vaccines for the twin island nation when they become available.
Meanwhile, the race is on across the world to find a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus with almost 30 vaccines already in human trials.
China’s Foreign Minister said this week that the vaccine developed in his country will be a public benefit of universal access, and that the Asian nation will designate a $1 billion loan to help Caribbean countries acquire it.
Antigua, like much of the region, has long had a close relationship with China.
Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, Lionel Hurst, told Observer China has not yet communicated the “very fine offer by any official means”.
“We read it in the newspaper and we are waiting on official word. But, as indicated prior, the Americans and the Brits are working jointly on a vaccine and are likely to have that vaccine at a very early period,” he explained.
Since the decision had been made to have PAHO source Antigua and Barbuda’s vaccine, Hurst said it is too early to say whether the government will take up China’s offer.
When vaccines make it to human clinical trials, they first go through trials primarily to test their safety, determine dosages and identify any potential side effects in a small number of people.
The next phase investigates efficacy on larger groups, while the final stage is much wider, involving thousands or tens of thousands of people to confirm and assess the effectiveness of the vaccine and probe further for rare side effects.
Several countries say they are close to finding an effective vaccine, and that distribution could start as early as Christmas, but there is very little or no evidence on how it will affect humans.
On Thursday, the UK High Commission in St John’s gave more insight into promising signs seen in research underway at Oxford University.
A press statement said there were no early safety concerns and the vaccine being developed induces strong immune responses in both parts of the immune system. It provoked a T-cell response within 14 days of vaccination (white blood cells that can attack cells infected with the virus), and an antibody response within 28 days. Antibodies are able to neutralise the virus so it cannot infect cells when initially contracted.
The High Commission said participants who received the vaccine had detectable neutralising antibodies, which have been suggested by researchers as important for protection, and these responses were strongest after a booster dose, with 100 percent of participants’ blood having neutralising activity against the coronavirus.
The next step in studying the vaccine is to confirm that it can effectively protect against Covid-19 infection.