Despite the availability of a variety of vaccines, many Caribbean countries are a seeing higher number of infections and deaths since the COVID-19 virus was first detected in the region in early 2020. The delta variant and vaccine hesitancy is among the major contributing factors.
This is according to Joy St. John, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). She was making a presentation during a virtual engagement that also saw the participation of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), where the pandemic has taken a toll on smaller economies and smaller populations of island people.
St. John said that while the Caribbean “is lucky” to have access to a variety of vaccines, either from donations or bilateral purchases, it was at the same time battling two difficult challenges – the delta variant and vaccine hesitancy.
“All of the variants of concerns and of interest are in circulation in the CARICOM region,” she said. However, because the Delta variant is the most frequently found variant, it is the most widely circulated variant in member states, she explained.
St. John said with this variant being the most concerning variant, countries are now seeing worrisome optics in the number of cases and deaths.
“The Caribbean region is not in a good state… the region is not in a good place,” she emphasised while urging countries to ensure the continued supply of vaccine.
“Delta is increasing the scale of problem… we need to address right here and right now the low vaccine rate, impacts of vaccine hesitancy and the presence of anti vaxers,” she added.
Friday’s virtual session was seen as a follow up to a meeting between President Irfaan Ali and a delegation led by Brian Benjamin, the 78th Lieutenant Governor of New York State.
At that meeting, Dr. Ali had called for a global unified response to COVID-19, sentiments that were echoed by Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud during Friday’s meeting.
According to Persaud, a unified response will determine the survival and continued existence of mankind
“As the President highlighted, we can’t be further divided on the types of vaccines.
“Those took the bold step and risk taking unapproved vaccines should not be penalized and restricted in terms of travel and participating in the global economy,” he said.
Persaud said a unified response to dealing with vaccine hesitancy was also important but a more frightening picture was painted by the OECS Director General Dr. Didacus Jules.
“We are facing what is a crisis in OECS. When we see projections saying that one of our member states by next week will reach infection rates where one out of every two persons in the population will be infected, our existence as a society is under threat.
“It’s pass the time for talk and it’s time for action,” he said as he called for support the for eastern Caribbean states.