As many Caribbean countries continue to grapple with COVID-19 infections and deaths, the uptake of the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines in the region remains “unacceptably low”.
This is according to Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne. He was speaking at the virtual installation ceremony of the eighth Secretary-General of CARICOM Dr. Carla Barnett on Monday.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been a focus of Prime Minister Browne and his predecessor, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Keith Rowley. This is so because the pandemic had disproportionately affected the Caribbean region, devastating especially the tourism- dependent economies with the introduction of lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Prime Minister Rowley had been a fervent advocate for a more equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, instead of hoarding by the world’s larger economies.
On Monday, he said, “in many of our member states, the percentage of our population that has been vaccinated remains unacceptably low.”
The Prime Minister stated that the issue of an inequitable access to vaccines has been further complicated by pervasive vaccine hesitancy.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was struck with a rock, reportedly by an anti-vaccination protester. In Antigua and Barbuda and Guyana, there were some protests over the introduction of vaccination requirements.
The Antiguan Prime Minister later emphasised, “We have to continue to stand together to fight the issue of vaccine hesitancy which is perhaps the most significant threat to the region at this point.”
Over the past few weeks, donations of vaccines to the Caribbean region were announced by the United States (US). Some countries have been able to benefit from further supplies from the international COVAX facility, while other countries have been able to procure vaccines on their own as well.
The Pan- American Health Organization (PAHO), as of Tuesday, reported that nearly three million vaccine doses have been distributed across the Caribbean region (excluding the Latin Caribbean countries).
Meanwhile, the University of the West Indies (UWI) reported that a total of 217,840 COVID-19 infections and 5,170 deaths have been recorded in the 14 CARICOM countries since the beginning of the pandemic last year.
Providing brief remarks at her installation ceremony, Dr. Barnett said that she is assuming the position acutely aware of the challenges the community faces at this time.