“We’re all in this together” has turned out to be so much old talk as the richest countries of the world scramble over the backs of poorer nations in a race to the head of the line to claim scarce supplies of the Covid-19 vaccine.
For this reason, we fully support Caricom’s call for a global summit of the “world’s peoples representatives”, as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley put it, to “commiserate, explain, assist and commit to a fair sharing of the available vaccine resources for the benefit of all humankind and not just the privileged, well-heeled few”.
The urgency of this issue which threatens to push Caricom countries towards the back of the line requires an immediate intervention by the World Health Organisation (WHO) if the disparity is to be redressed.
Yesterday, the African country of Ghana stepped into the global spotlight when it became the first country in the world to receive a batch of Covid-19 vaccines under WHO’s Covax facility.
The delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India launched the first wave of Covid-19 vaccines being distributed by WHO to low- and middle-income countries. Within a month’s time, Trinidad and Tobago is expected to receive a first batch of 100,000 to 120,000 from WHO. With the two-dose vaccine approved for persons 18 years and over, this country will require roughly 1.3 million vaccine doses to meet the needs of the adult population, assuming full embrace of the vaccine.
As it stands now, with less than ten per cent of the required supply having been secured through Covax, T&T along with the rest of Caricom is in a desperate hunt for supplies. India is expected to donate another 330,000 doses to Caribbean countries soon, but it is not clear whether any of it is destined for T&T.
Our next hope appears to lie with the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) which has placed a purchase order for 250 million vaccine doses from which 1.5 million doses will be sold to Caricom. With the allotment divided among Caricom countries based on population size, T&T will get 226,000 doses, for which it will pay the AU directly. This supply may be from the African Union’s order of 400 million doses from India’s Serum Institute which was announced by the AU and India last month.
The most important lesson that this vaccine experience holds for T&T and Caricom is the importance of strong relationships beyond the conventional trade routes. Fifty years ago, India, Africa and the Caribbean were in the forefront of the movement to transform the world order by re-aligning social, cultural and economic relationships within the decolonised world. Sadly, geo-political developments in the 1990s set back the non-aligned movement, leaving today’s legacy of island insularity and bi-lateralism. The consequence of this is that today, when Caricom most needed to stand and negotiate as one, it does not have the voice to command attention.
However, its recent actions indicate a quickened understanding of the old adage of strength in unity. Hopefully, the lesson will endure beyond Covid-19.