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CARICOM asks WHO to host meeting on COVID vaccine distribution

CARICOM asks WHO to host meeting on COVID vaccine distribution
Dr Keith Rowley (FILE)

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Geneva – The 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Thursday reiterated its call for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to host an international summit on distribution of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who is also chairman of the regional integration grouping, told a WHO news conference that he is also concerned about price gouging.

“As there is the understandable rush to receive the vaccine and the inoculation of our various populations we are more than a little bit concerned that there is or is to be hoarding and price gouging as well as undue preferences in some quarters.

“This being so, we at CARICOM, recently called on WHO to immediately convene an international convention of the world’s people’s representatives to explain, assist and commit to a fair sharing of the available vaccine resources for the benefit of all human kind and not just a privileged few,” Rowley said.

“Today we continue to make that call,” Rowley said.

He added that CARICOM is also wary of the many “charlatans who are increasingly emerging as they stalk the vulnerable with offers of opportunities that seem too good to be true, only because they really are, but are protected by the many disguises”.

The CARICOM chairman said the work of the WHO “is far from over [and] that now, more than ever, you are required to protect us” from a range of issues, including the equitable distribution of the vaccine.

“Small states such as ours have made and continue to make high and huge sacrifices in an endeavour to protect our populations from the worst ravages of the virus. We anxiously anticipate the promised relief and general benefits that an early successful vaccination programme can bring to each of us.

“All we ask as members of a family of nations is that we not be forgotten, ignored, or worse, taken advantage of in this business of life and death,” he said, noting that CARICOM was looking forward to welcoming the hierarchy of the WHO “in a healthy Caribbean in the near future”.

The WHO Thursday said it will continue to work with stakeholders to enable rapid detection and response to COVID-19 cases and clusters, including through an integrated, multisectoral coordination system.

Meanwhile, WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has praised Rowley for his leadership in managing the COVID-19 outbreak in his country.

“I would also like to recognise that Trinidad and Tobago – your country – has done very well in this pandemic and this is because of your leadership,” he said.

The WHO head also credited and commended the successful management of the outbreak to the non-medical interventions such as the Public Health Regulations and restrictions.

“Given without vaccines, using public health solutions, we can see from your own experience that this virus can be controlled. So, thank you so much for your leadership, Your Excellency, and I welcome your solidarity,” he added.

The WHO Director-General also expressed his pleasure with the country’s first doses of the vaccine being administered to healthcare workers on Wednesday.

COVAX, a coalition led by WHO and Gavi to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, has notified countries in the Americas of the estimated dose allocation for the first phase of vaccine delivery. Thirty-six of the countries and territories participating in COVAX received letters about the estimated number of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that they could be receiving from the second half of February through the second quarter of 2021.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently under review by WHO for emergency use approval. The number of doses and delivery schedule are subject to EUL and manufacturing production capacity, as well as establishing supply agreements between the producers, WHO, and UNICEF. According to the COVAX statement, it is estimated that around 35.3 million doses will be arriving in the Americas in the first stage.

Countries in the Americas participating in COVAX that received letters are Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Granada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela. (CMC)