by Earl Bousquet
After 14 months living with COVID-19 and the global pandemic having also taken millions of lives, the international vaccine distribution crisis is finally starting to attract attention long badly needed from countries best able to help save the world from continuing COVID Carnage.
And pandemic panic is also increasing at an unprecedentedly alarming rate.
After spending all of May sweating over the fallout from the pandemic’s fast spread across India and Delhi’s ban on vaccine exports to help inoculate the world’s largest population, the ten richest countries that bought-up 75% of all the vaccines so-far-produced, are finally realizing that despite over-purchasing and hoarding vaccines, they still remain as vulnerable as the rest of the world.
With new strains and variants appearing, developing and spreading faster in different countries than the scientists can name them, the new ‘Indian Variant’ is now very present in Europe and North America and spreading faster than the preceding ‘British’, ‘South African’, ‘Brazilian’ or ‘American’ ones.
The richest nations – the USA, European Union (EU) and members of the G7 group — are therefore starting to rethink their earlier plans to vaccinate their way out of the pandemic without looking beyond their borders.
The USA has over 2.6 billion doses, but even with 40% of adults (or 135 million Americans) vaccinated and the Biden administration hoping to vaccinate 70% by July 4, the rate of spread of the so-called ‘Indian Variant’, put alongside the over seven un-named ‘American’ variants that have already long been discovered in the US, Washington is also being careful about beating the victory drum anytime yet.
The European Union (EU) has over one billion vaccine doses, but even with another billion on order, Brussels is bristling under the pull of the production rug by India, which produced most of the world’s vaccines, but for export mainly (mainly, but not exclusively) to rich countries in Europe and North America.
Despite having 507 million vaccines under his belt, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was thrown under the bus by his ex-chief advisor Dominic Cummings on May 28 and 29, who told an investigative commission his former boss has the blood of thousands of British COVID-19 victims on his hands. (Why? Because Dominic says he took too much time and did too little in the early days of the pandemic to learn quickly from the lessons of early-response from the likes of China and Taiwan.)
The WHO Director General reminded the world last week that if the rich countries had allowed for equal global distribution of the vaccines, virtually everyone everywhere could have been vaccinated today.
But as a result of their selfishness, almost 3.5 million people have died – the Director General suggesting the real number can be closer to three times that amount, or over 10 million.
South Africa has joined India to demand that the multinational pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) temporarily relax on their copyright restrictions to allow developing countries with capabilities to produce vaccines by and for themselves.
But the companies are instead offering to keep the formulae and offer vaccines, Pfizer and BioNtech last week announcing they’re prepared to produce two billion doses for developing countries.
The USA and its European allies are promising to also share parts of their excess stocks with developing countries — the US sending 60 million previously shelved AstraZeneca doses back to India as a gift and Italy announcing it will increase its contribution to the global vaccine fund and assist countries to develop their vaccine production capacities.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) saw nothing spectacular in May to increase its hopes to take vaccination levels above the average 1% levels, individual nations embarking on national campaigns to give the second jab to those who’ve got the first and to also encourage vaccine skeptics to overcome their hesitance and take the prick.
Like everywhere else, most Caribbean nations are finding that most of those who wanted the jab have got it and the number awaiting their turn is very small, but with worryingly large numbers who have not or simply refuse to take the jab.
Just like in the USA where million-dollar vaccination-lotto prizes are on the offer, incentives are also being offered in some Caribbean states, including food hampers and the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda even suggesting he might offer ‘A bucket of KFC’ (fried chicken) per prick.
Much attention was drawn to Saint Lucia in mid-May when the 90-day National COVID Emergency introduced last February was extended by five months to October 15, government indicating it was to facilitate the nationwide curfew and police COVID prevention protocols.
With general elections due in 2021 but unlikely before June 6 – the government’s five-year term will expire during the 150-day COVID Emergency extension, making Saint Lucia the next CARICOM in line for an election under COVID conditions after Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad & Tobago.
While disconnecting the expansion of the emergency from anything to do with general elections, the prime minister says the election date will be predicated on government’s ability to and the availability of vaccines for achieving the Herd Immunity rate of 70% of the population of 180,000, which will require at least 126,000 double-jabs of Oxford-AstraZeneca, the only vaccine available.
Government is patiently awaiting the arrival of the rest of the 77,000 doses to be provided by the United Nations’ COVAX scheme while the prime minister shops around, with admittedly difficulty, for the wanted more.
But with the Biden administration dispatching America’s Caribbean diplomats to the region’s capitals with promises to make some of the 80 million doses it’s willing to share available by the end of June, CARICOM member-states got another reason to end this month still crossing fingers and knocking-on-wood, with high hopes that more equitable vaccine-sharing by the rich countries in what’s left of 2021, even if only allowing donors and recipients to eventually say: ‘Better late than never!’
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of St Lucia Times.