Caricom Countries Will Share Covid-19 Vaccines

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Caricom countries will share Covid-19 vaccines with one another.

This is one of the decisions of the Caricom Heads of Government at its intersessional meeting yesterday.

At the meeting, leaders also agreed to issue a “strong statement” registering their “concern and dissatisfaction” with the way Caricom countries are being “squeezed” out of access to the Covid-19 vaccines.

These announcements were made by Caricom chairman and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at the conclusion of the Caricom Heads of Government 32nd Intersessional meeting.

“We discussed and we agreed that whoever gets vaccines will share as much as we are able to with those who do not have, because it appears as though for a while we will not be able to access vaccines as we have anticipated. It is a very difficult environment and we are in fact being squeezed in the way I have just described,” he said.

He said Caricom leaders took the decision to issue a strong statement on the way in which they were being squeezed out.

“We know that there is a world shortage of vaccines but what has been put in place to allow countries like us to have access to the vaccine has not been working along those lines. And the end result is that at this time we only had fortunately one gift of 170,000 vaccines within the region.

“And we have not up to now been able to access any other, even though we now know and anticipate with great expectation that in the next few days we will hear when we will get our first Covax.

“But you must understand that the Covax initial quotas are but a small part of our needs,” the Prime Minister stated.

Referring to efforts to source the vaccines bilaterally from manufacturers, Rowley said the only thing that had happened along those lines is that some countries got commitments from India to add to the 170,000 doses (given thus far to Barbados and Dominica).

“So far we have not been able to access vaccines in the way we anticipated. The large suppliers and the major countries have bought up all the supplies and the suppliers are telling us that they are unable to access orders from us because of their commitment to those who (already) have access to those vaccines,” he said.

The Prime Minister said apart from the strong statement, there would be a repeat of the call to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the face of this development which the WHO and the United Nations are aware of.

African and Indian sources

In terms of purchasing, he said Caricom had advanced further with the offers from the African Medical Council platform.

“There is an arrangement there where we have all agreed to put in our requests… We are required to pay so that the shipment can be made and we have committed to do that in such a way as to allow them to share the vaccines that they are getting because they are one of the large blocs,” he said.

He said the Caricom also heard from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and how it is hoping to attract enough vaccines, or to acquire larger volumes under the Covax tranches from suppliers into the PAHO chain “so that when we get our first supplies between now and April from Covax, we will continue to receive other tranches that would take us through the year”.

Rowley said Caricom had also taken the decision to write directly to “our partners in North America pointing out to them that because of the requirement for us to be healthy, so that they can be healthy, that they consider sharing with us some (vaccines) from their sources so that we too can very quickly take control of the virus”.

The Prime Minister said Caricom leaders feared if the region waited too long to get its supply of vaccines there was the danger of a variant of the virus emerging from this region.

This would “undo” what North America is doing in terms of inoculating its population, he said.

“We need to travel, we need to open our borders. But that is predicated on us all being properly vaccinated,” he said.

Asked about a tweet from Caricom which referred to a pledge of 500,000 vaccines for Caricom from Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Rowley said there was never a singular offer of 500,000 vaccines that was available for Caricom countries to tap into.

He said the meeting was told by other Heads of Government that through continued contact with India “other offers had been made at different levels of confirmation”.

He said there were promises of more doses (in addition to the 170,000 already donated).

There was also the possibility of purchase of some vaccines if the suppliers in India who are making those vaccines for larger countries “accept our orders and agree to sell”.

Cuban vaccines not yet an option

In response to a question that people were saying that the “Indian vaccine” was a “concoction” from India, the Prime Minister said it was important to understand that the labels of Indian vaccines and British vaccines could be misleading and related to where the approved Covid vaccines were being made.

He said the vaccine being made in India was the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said what some companies had been saying is that they would sell a small quantity to the small countries but it must still be of a minimum amount and one of the conditions is that it has to be in a confidential arrangement where the country cannot disclose the price of the vaccine.

He said in this arrangement the prices charged to different countries “can be hugely different”.

Asked about accessing the vaccines being made in Cuba, Rowley said until the Cuban vaccine is approved by the WHO, Caricom countries will not attempt to use it on their populations.

He said Caricom plans to engage the Biden administration in the US at the various levels of contact on the issues of vaccine accessibility, its concerns about de-risking of the banking system and its concerns about the European Union’s designation of nations in the region as not co-operating with international standards for banks and therefore black-listing countries in Caricom as well as the issues of security arising from the influx of arms and ammunition made in the United Nations.