Prime Minister Gaston Browne would like access to COVID-19 vaccines to be based on a country’s vulnerability, rather than its purchasing power or strictly commercial considerations.
In addition to the United States and the United Kingdom – from whom Browne has already solicited donations of the AstraZeneca drug – Antigua & Barbuda is attempting to source vaccines from China, Russia and Cuba.
Speaking at the recent Sixth Special Meeting of the OECS Authority, Browne asked why the World Health Organisation (WHO) is taking such a long time to approve the Sputnik V and Sinopharm (Sy-no-farm)vaccines, from Russia and China, respectively.
He believes the delay is also related to the issue of “vaccine hesitancy” among the OECS populations.
“The race to herd immunity is on,” Browne said. He added that the OECS is looking to the WHO for urgent assistancein accessing vaccines on reasonable terms and “widening our vaccine options,”
Meanwhile, the OECS Heads of Government, who devoted their deliberations entirely to the COVID-19 pandemic, reportedly had a robust discussion with a special guest: the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus (Geb-ree-yay-sus).
Dr.Ghebreyesus informed the leaders that he has called on vaccine-producing countries to adopt “vaccine equity;” not as charity, but as a means to allow all countries to overcome the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the OECSChairman –Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit – praised the Director-General for his exemplary leadership of the WHO during this time of international crisis.
Skerrit also addressed the most urgent challenges facing the OECS at present, whileDr. Ghebreyesus(Geb-ree-yay-sus) acknowledged that the region has seen some degree of success in containing the pandemic.
He stressed that the critical concern now is collaboration among countries in order to manage the risks associated with international travel.
A number of Heads raised the problem of bottlenecks in the international supply,which is prolonging the recovery process in their respective countries.
They also opined that the promise of 600 million COVAX doses by June 2021 seems unrealistic; and even if this were to be fulfilled, a vaccine gap would still remain, they said.
So far, Jamaica is the only Caribbean country to have received vaccines under the COVAX arrangeement.
At 25% penetration, Antigua and Barbuda has vaccinated the second-highest percentage of a population in CARICOM, to date. Reportedly, it follows Anguilla, which has inoculated 31% of its people.