On 15 March 2021, Jamaica received 2.1 million Covid-19 vaccines, becoming the first Caribbean country to receive vaccines through the COVAX framework: a partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (“CEPI”), the Vaccine Alliance Gavi and the World Health Organisation (“WHO”).
By May 2021, 15 additional Caribbean countries, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago, are expected to receive additional 2.1 million vaccines.
A Caribbean healthcare consultant described a haphazard vaccination programme in the region, “A number of the islands received a donation from India. Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos and Bermuda being British colonies got their vaccines from the UK. So, the UK has stepped up. What these islands got, they are also sharing with the other islands. So it’s a mismatch in the region, with respect to who is getting what. Most islands won’t get anything until April at the earliest.”
“It’s a mismatch in the region, with respect to who is getting what. Most islands won’t get anything until April at the earliest.”
Healthcare consultant, Caribbean
Amnesty International (“AI”) alerted that the Caribbean is a region already facing multiple human rights crises and the lack of a universal right to health in most of the region’s countries endangers high-risk groups. The organisation singled out older people, indigenous communities, migrants, refugees and Afro descendants.
The IMF also called on the G20 to extend its Debt Service suspension initiative for the Caribbean until July 2021 to give the region breathing room to secure their vaccine rollout. This is especially important as most of these countries will be financing the vaccinations through debt, a regional healthcare economist stated, “Most of the Caribbean countries will need loans for the vaccination rollout. I believe Jamaica has asked for USD 65 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (“IDB”) to support the vaccination programme. It needs to be a low interest rate with long term re-payment loan.”
“Most of the Caribbean countries will need loans for the vaccination rollout. […]. It needs to be a low interest rate with long term re-payment loan.”
Healthcare economist, Caribbean region
The IDB instrument also includes a collaboration platform with local governments to implement regulatory reforms to facilitate the acquisition and distribution of vaccines. This platform will be developed by the IDB Invest and IDB Lab arms of the international organisation.
The Caribbean Community has also launched a Caribbean Economy Recovery Transformation Plan to develop a financing strategy to support post-pandemic investment needs and help small developing regional countries in their future recovery.
Once the financing is in place and the vaccines delivered, the region still faces a challenge in uptake as a senior healthcare administration official described, “My biggest concern is uptake – how is the population going to accept the vaccine, given the reactions, and recent bans etc. Vaccine health education is important. I estimate that confidence in any vaccine is about 50% at present.”