The thought that the United States is literally sitting on a stockpile of 60 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, while Governments in the Caribbean are running around from pillar to post, trying to acquire this vital protection for their populations is nothing short of amazing.
This vaccine, which is being used widely in Europe, and is the main source of inoculation for Britain, has not been authorised for emergency use in the United States. At the same time, though, the American government continues to order more of it, which further boggles the mind.
According to news reports, the company which developed AstraZeneca in association with Britain’s Oxford University, has not applied for emergency authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration.
With several American drug makers who are global leaders in the highly lucrative pharmaceutical business, currently dominating their home market for COVID-19 vaccines, it appears there is no viable reason why the British drug developer would seek to fight for market share there.
Just days ago, the Biden administration finally announced it was prepared to share its stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines with the rest of the world in the “coming weeks”.
And as another wave of the viral disease spreads, the American administration is yet to indicate which countries will be the fortunate recipients of the life-saving treatment.
“We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID in the next few months,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a recent briefing. She said the Biden administration was confident in the ability of leading American drug makers Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer to respond to the needs of America.
What we in Barbados should be most concerned about, however, is the slow pace of global vaccine assistance by America and other industrialised nations.
We are disturbed by the dramatic deterioration of the COVID-19 situation in India. This nation, which had not yet brought its own COVID infections under control, swiftly responded to the pleas for assistance from Caribbean nations such as us, who were finding it difficult and extremely expensive to acquire vaccines for the highly contagious viral illness.
While many European trading partners blocked export of AstraZeneca and other vaccines, India offered a most timely helping hand to us in the region. We can only pray that the Indian government gets the current wave there under control.
By now, there should be an acceptance that one cannot go it alone in this vaccine fight. With trade and travel so globalized, it is impossible for one country to remain free of the disease unless it is prepared to isolate itself.
No country is safe from COVID-19 until all countries have eradicated the disease.
With demand for the tourism product in the Caribbean ramping up, it is vital that regional countries increase the rate of vaccinations in their populations. The risk of a deadlier third wave of the disease from more virulent strains of COVID-19 would wreak havoc on us.
Our small economies continue to struggle as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic while some larger countries turn inward in their approach to the disease.
Vaccines do not just represent a vitally important protection mechanism. A highly vaccinated society can return to normal economic and social life without the worry that the health care system will collapse.
With thousands of our hospitality workers on the breadline, and most hotels shuttered, it is vitally important that we resume some form of foreign exchange-earning activity.
The reality of the pandemic-induced crises will force a greater sense of urgency to increase the rate and speed of our vaccination process.
Unless Britain, for example, controls its COVID-19 cases by ensuring a high percentage of vaccinated citizens, then it risks exposing the populations of other countries to the dangerous UK variant, when it lifts travel restrictions and allows Britons to move around the globe.
Pharmaceutical companies insist that they can produce enough vaccines to immunize the world by the end of 2021. It is clear that those predictions do not fully account for the real demands of poor and middle-income countries.
Industrialised nations are still hoarding double and triple the needs of their own states. In some cases, rich countries have up to five times the number of vaccines in stockpile than the size of their populations.
It is truly an indictment on the developed world that of the 8.6 billion vaccine doses produced, high and middle-income countries have secured 6 billion. It is indeed time for the collective conscience of the world’s leading countries to come to grips with the fact that COVID-19 is a global battle that cannot be won by an individual country.