PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Two regional economists have advised Caribbean countries to join forces to buy about 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses for the entire region, or the pandemic will continue to devastate lives and economies for another two years.
Justin Ram, former director of economics at the Caribbean Development Bank, and Kiran Mathur Mohammed, co-founder of medl, an IDB lab-backed social impact health tech company, contended that this is the only way out of the current cycle of lockdowns and fear.
“To save lives and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, Caribbean countries have imposed lockdowns, border closures, restricted movements and quarantines for almost a year. These, alongside our own physical distancing we have adopted ourselves — necessary to protect against the virus — have resulted in job losses, school closures, and triggered domestic violence, abuse and mental health crises.
“We must escape from this constant, crippling cycle of lockdowns and fear, and get people back to work so we can start adjusting to our new post-COVID-19 lives. The vaccine is the only way,” the economists wrote in a joint article.
Ram and Mohammed noted that while it is good that governments have accessed vaccines through the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX Facility, and individual countries have started bilateral discussions with vaccine providers already approved by the WHO, getting those doses will take far too long.
“By the time a vaccine is WHO-approved, its manufacturers are immediately flooded with orders. Distributors in Mexico have said that AstraZeneca, for example, has said that nothing will be available to them until mid-2022. There is huge competition to obtain vaccines and the simple market reality is that smaller players have less clout,” they said.
“Counterintuitively, it is actually easier to procure a larger order than a smaller one. We will only land vaccines and achieve herd immunity in the next few months if Caricom pre-orders vaccines now from candidates whose WHO approval is expected in the next month or two. Large numbers of other countries are already taking this approach. We must do so or we will end up living like this until 2023.”