Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley laments the disproportionate distribution and access to COVID 19 vaccines globally. Dr. Rowley was speaking as Chairman of CARICOM. He spoke of the various challenges facing CARICOM members states including challenges to tourism, energy, jobs and health. The Prime Minister also lamented the disproportionate distribution and access to critical Covid 19 vaccines. He said ten countries have received vaccines while 130 smaller countries have limited or no access to vaccines. Dr Rowley addressed the Atlantic council Front Page forum.
Here’s an excerpt of Dr. Rowley,s presentation:
“For CARICOM, our first order of business is to ensure that as many of our citizens as possible are vaccinated as early as possible. This is fundamental to resuming social and economic activity across all spheres. The pandemic has spawned a crisis in health, closed our borders, crippled economic growth and is creating a debt crisis that is unravelling noteworthy gains made by CARICOM countries. Last month, the World Economic Forum cautioned that job creation is slowing while simultaneously, job destruction is accelerating. We all have to fight against that and awaken the opportunities of the digital economy.
Our Region, comprised of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and those with low-lying coastal areas, is considered the most tourism- and travel-dependent globally: sectors that have been hard hit, almost decimated by the pandemic. As a Community, the economic challenges reverberate throughout our Single Market. The tourism sector, which in some Member States, accounts for 50% of GDP, is a significant source of employment, revenue generation and earns over 60% in foreign exchange. It is also closely linked to food and beverage, the cultural industries, financial services, and transportation. Some of us, like Trinidad and Tobago, have grappled with collapse and fluctuations in energy and commodity prices (crude declined by 23.9%, natural gas by 2.9% in 2020), a high food import bill (currently US$4.7 Billion and increasing), and the impacts of extreme weather systems such as hurricanes and floods .
A real and present danger is the emergence of new variants which may or may not be neutralised by the vaccines developed to date. It is for this reason that the fair, transparent and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is critically urgent. We applaud President Biden’s commitment to channel US$4 billion to the COVAX facility in the next two years and, the G7 pledge of US$4.3 billion to develop and distribute effective tests, treatments and vaccines world-wide. We too recognise that no country can be safe until every country is safe.
CARICOM wants to work alongside the US and other international partners within a robust multilateral framework to build back better together and ensure that no one is left behind. On February 17, the United Nations Secretary General regretted that “just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines…while, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.” We applaud his resolve to mobilise the entire UN apparatus in support of a Global Vaccination Plan and to bring together all those with the required power, expertise and production capacities to achieve this outcome. We in CARICOM expect to receive our first doses sometime around mid-March. So far all that we have received are 170,000 doses gifted to a couple nations from the Government of India. Barbados and Dominica who received these gifts, graciously shared them around to many of us. This was done by them even as others with millions of doses that they can’t use immediately are refusing to make way for others at the manufacturers”.