Access to COVID-19 vaccines not equitable, says Caricom


Access to COVID-19 vaccines not equitable, says Caricom

Friday, January 15, 2021

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC)— Expressing concern that regional states may not have equal access to COVID-19 vaccines, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) has called for a global summit to address the matter.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Caricom said it was “deeply concerned at the current prospect of inequitable access to vaccines, especially for front line workers and vulnerable populations”, as the world grapples with the challenge of controlling the coronavirus pandemic.

“The reality is that small states will find it difficult to compete in the marketplace to ensure equitable access for vaccines,” the regional grouping said.

“Given the transmissibility of the virus, all countries are vulnerable and should work together. The Caribbean Community, therefore, calls for a global summit in the context of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Act – A Facilitation Council to discuss equitable access and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.”

Caricom added that the inextricable link economically, socially, and by virtue of travel with neighbours and the wider international community, makes it imperative for member states to be afforded access to vaccines as a matter of urgent priority. “This action will be mutually beneficial in breaking the transmission of the virus,” Caricom said it. It added that it was deeply concerned at the current prospect of inequitable access to vaccines.

Notwithstanding that appeal, the community said it will explore all available options to access vaccines in order to protect its population from the ravages of the pandemic,” it added.

As of January 9, there were 43 vaccines being developed across the world that are in phase one trials. Twenty are in phase two and another 20 are in phase three trials. Seven vaccines are in early or limited use in countries and three are fully approved for use.

The three vaccines that have already been approved are from: Pfizer-BioNTech, with development in the United States and Germany; Moderna, with development in the United States; and Oxford-Astrazeneca, with development in the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The British Overseas Territories of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands have already received shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the United Kingdom and have started their vaccination programmes.

Meantime, Caricom nations, which joined the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX Facility) as part of their strategic approach to access safe vaccines, are awaiting shipments anticipated to arrive in the first half of 2021.

On Tuesday, during the sitting of the House of Representatives, Jamaica's Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton said the Government has agreed to begin exploring access to safe vaccines, outside of the COVAX Facility.

He said agreement has also been reached to explore bilateral arrangements with countries that have indicated their willingness to partner with Jamaica to ensure the safe vaccination of the population.

“The ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, will begin the process of exploring how we can leverage our international engagements to secure additional supply access for safe vaccines,” Dr Tufton said.

He said the Government will enter bilateral meetings with other nations, including India, China and Cuba, to ascertain their level of support and to determine the best arrangement for acquisition and distribution of safe vaccines to the population.

“It must be understood that the Ministry of Health and Wellness will maintain its very rigorous process of review for all medical supplies that are administered within our jurisdiction,” the health minister assured.

“Therefore, the Standards and Regulations Division of the ministry, in collaboration with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), will be maintaining the requirements for the emergency use authorisation for these vaccines.”

Through the COVAX Facility, Jamaica has been able to negotiate vaccine dosages price of US$10.55, reduced from the going average price of US$35.00. This price is negotiated for 16 per cent of the population and represents phase one of Jamaica's vaccination roll-out plan.

“I can announce that, further to my update in November, the ministry has been advised by the COVAX Facility that the first batch of vaccines that are due in April 2021, has been increased from an original one per cent to five per cent. This represents a total of approximately 292,000 doses, enough to vaccinate approximately 146,000 Jamaicans,” Dr Tufton informed the House of Representatives.

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