Over the past week, there have been several announcements regarding the development of vaccines to combat the COVID-19 virus. This has been the development the entire world has been waiting for since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in March this year.
The world has had one of the most severe shocks in over a century with the global outbreak of the coronavirus. Countries have been forced to close their borders, economies have been brought to a screeching halt, millions have been affected, and sadly, more than a million people have died.
The virus has proven to be the invisible enemy we all feared. It has upended our lives in ways that a mere ten months ago seemed impossible. Yet for our own safety, the protection of our families and societies, we now wear masks, wash our hands constantly and keep social gatherings at a minimum.
There have been no picnics. Carnival and the accompanying fetes were cancelled. So too, were major regional events such as the 2021 CARIFESTA.
Many have lost jobs as business activity has slowed significantly particularly in the areas of hospitality, food and beverage, aviation, ground transportation and entertainment. As a result, the government’s revenues plummeted. This has been reflected in the reports of a number of statutory bodies, the Social Security, Medical Benefits and Education Levy.
Therefore the news that there are at least two vaccines that have displayed efficacy of over 90 percent is understandably being welcomed as the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Russia has announced that they too have developed a vaccine dubbed ‘Sputnik’ and Cuba has announced that it is very close to developing its own.
While news of the vaccines is welcome, there are two important issues which must be considered:
- The process of developing the vaccine to ensure its efficacy and safety and
Already, large countries have been accused of ‘hoarding’ the vaccines long before they have come to the market. This, unfortunately, is one area in which the inequality of the current world order will rear its ugly head.
Small island developing states, such as ours in the Caribbean, cannot possibly compete with the larger and far better resourced nations if competition for the vaccines occurs. We do not have the populations nor financing to compete.
In the past, the Caribbean could rely on the United States and other developed countries to come to our assistance, but with the US facing its own challenges with the virus, it is highly unlikely that it will prioritise the needs of its small southern neighbours in the Caribbean.
Two countries have so far indicated that they will assist the Caribbean: China which is putting up US$20 billion to assist the Caribbean and Latin America to acquire adequate supplies of the vaccine and the United Kingdom which has committed to help its former territories.
Antigua and Barbuda is participating in a programme organised through the WHO that aims at ensuring that developing countries have access to the vaccine when it becomes available. The Ministry of Health was required to make a deposit to ensure t first batch of vaccines, however, with the government’s pandemic related challenges means that it is likely that additional assistance will be required to ensure that the entire population of Antigua and Barbuda can be inoculated.
There is a strong case to be made for the fact that the size of our pocketbooks should not determine the value of our lives and our place in line to receive the vaccine.
The region needs to begin a campaign to bring its unique challenges to the fore of the discussion on distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Waiting is a luxury we cannot afford. The time to act is now!