Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders met in an emergency session on Monday to reach out for international help, alarmed at a “critical” spike in coronavirus illness and deaths as the viral infection overwhelms hospitals and health care officials.
In a virtual “Special Emergency Meeting”, of the 15-nation bloc, CARICOM leaders asked the United States to deliver the next batch of Pfizer vaccines donated to CARICOM “earlier than originally planned”. They also asked for the US to set up field hospitals “and the accompanying equipment to help ease the current strain on health facilities in member states”.
The leaders met with American and British diplomats to convey the “gravity of the situation”, and to make specific requests for assistance, according to an official communique.
The meeting considered a regional response to the recent surge in infections, hospitalisations and deaths linked largely to the virulent Delta strain of the virus.
But amid rising vaccine hesitancy and slowing vaccination rates, the heads of government agreed to work more closely together to tighten entry rules, share unused vaccines and ask for a stepped-up timeline for the delivery of donated jabs.
In the communique, the leaders pledged to “consider the harmonisation of travel protocols, including for cruise ships. The leaders also agreed to the design of a community public relations strategy to supplement national campaigns to encourage citizens to vaccinate.
“There was also agreement by the CARICOM leaders to share excess vaccines, personal protective equipment and test kits. Sources said the leaders also agreed to approach the COVAX Facility to grant CARICOM an exemption, which would allow vaccine doses from the facility to be reallocated among the member states.”
The leaders “expressed deep concern at the increase of more than 100,000 new cases and 1,400 deaths between July 2021 and 12 September 2021”.
According to the official communique, the leaders received a status report from Dr. Joy St John, the head of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). Since the initial outbreak in March 2020, the Caribbean has recorded more than 300,000 confirmed cases and more than 6,700 deaths, she said.
The percentage of deaths was “exceedingly” high among unvaccinated people with less than one per cent of deaths recorded by persons who were vaccinated, she added.
The heads of government expressed dismay at the slow rate of vaccination in the 15-member grouping and significant vaccine hesitancy, the communique said.
According to CARPHA, as of September 3, vaccine coverage in CARICOM ranged from 58.7 per cent in associate member Bermuda to 0.1 per cent in Haiti, a full member of the bloc.
No CARICOM country is close to herd immunity, CARPHA reported. The leaders strongly urged Caribbean people to get vaccinated, “noting that failure to do so puts the health sector at great risk of being overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases”, the statement said.
“The heads particularly called on the frontline workers, such as nurses, doctors, security personnel and teachers to avail themselves of the vaccines given their critical roles in the society,” it added.
“CARICOM leaders also warned that the threat to the health, economic, education and security sectors was real, and called on all stakeholders to come together on this issue in the interest of the stability of the member states and the Community on a whole.”
But the tourism-dependent regional leaders’ request to the United Kingdom also suggested traffic light listing of countries that determines requirements for re-entry to the UK was having a negative impact on the region, “given the importance of that tourism market to the region”, the CARICOM statement concluded. (SD/CMC)