OECS and African Union Hold Discussions on Vaccine Allocation, Hesitancy and Disparities

CASTRIES, St. Lucia,– The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) says it is working with a coalition of international organizations “in a move of unparalleled cooperation and collaboration” to address the issues around hesitancy and disparities, that exist with vaccine allocation, primarily in Africa and the Caribbean.

VCOCIDThe OECS, which groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, said that the coalition is led by the Global Business Leadership Forum.

It said that the last meeting was on vaccine confidence/equity and was attended by members of the AfroChampions, – a Pan-African Initiative that aims to support the development of African multinationals to be able to boost the transformation of the continent and OECS Commission.

Also attending the meeting over the weekend were the officials of the Global Business Leadership Forum an organization that connects business executives and leaders from diverse businesses in different geographic locations globally through business forums, seminars and conference.

“A key outcome of the meeting was to schedule a follow-up meeting using a steering committee to prepare a way forward on strategies and formal approaches to heads of governments in both the OECS and African Union,” the statement said.

At the political level, the meeting was joined by Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne who is the current Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and; Oliver Joseph of Grenada who represented the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell.

“The purpose of this meeting was twofold; to launch a global campaign to garner confidence in vaccines and to work with major global corporations to assist with donations of 100 million vaccines that would be allocated to the Caribbean and the African Union (AU) member states,” according to a statement from the St. Lucia-based OECS Commission.

It noted that the OECS and the African Union have a long history of successful collaboration spanning climate action to economic debt relief and now COVID-19 vaccination challenges.

Speaking on behalf of the sub-regional leader, Prime Minister Browne, highlighted the cooperation and linkages which existed between Africa and the Caribbean and welcomed the opportunity to come together to advocate for global accessibility of vaccines

‘Being unable to get our people vaccinated and to achieve population immunity in lockstep with the rest of the world means that we will be left behind and livelihoods will be destroyed,” Browne said, expressing concerns for what he termed as ‘the hoarding of vaccines by wealthy countries’ who had been ordering three to four times their size of vaccine populations.

He agreed that coming together to provide economies of scale that could negotiate with vaccine manufacturers would be effective in bringing about a change to the situation at this time in order to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines and to address the nine US trillion dollars in economic losses as a result of the inequitable distribution of vaccine and vaccine availability

Joseph noted the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the country’s economy and vaccine hesitancy which was largely fueled by vaccine politics attributing to the lack of confidence among the people.

The tourism-dependent economy of the country which relied on St. George’s University for 25 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), remained closed.

St. Lucia said it hoped that the coalition could move just as quickly to provide information to counter the misinformation on social media just as quickly as it was spreading

Ambassador Elma Gene Isaac who spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, said the work of the joint efforts on the African Medical Supplies Platform which had started with CARICOM needed to be continued. T

She noted that the start of the hurricane season could potentially increase the threat of the pandemic without inoculation as people move to hurricane shelters. The inability to vaccine could also mean a delay in the reopening of the economy, which was already facing a GDP contraction of 20 per cent for 2020.

The Executive Director of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA,) Dr. Joy St. John,, advised that because of vaccine hesitancy, CARPHA had launched a survey among its

Member states, to try to understand the concerns and to create a communications campaign to specifically address the issues.

She noted with interest the ‘wait and see what is happening in other countries’ approach has impacted vaccine hesitancy rates. She expressed interest in being involved in clinical trials for treatments and vaccines.

CARPHA was also very keen in finding out when the African Medical Supplies platform would be able to deliver to the Caribbean. The move by the Caribbean to join COVAX was to take advantage of the economies of scale but unfortunately, it had not been as swift nor as abundant as was required by the region.

Former AU secretary and co-chair of AfroChampions, Dr. Edem Adzogenu, who served as the moderator, outlined the efforts being made by African countries to harmonizing discussions on testing, but also acquiring data on migration through the harmonization of travel restrictions and using targeted digital platforms.

The counsel of the Elders, which also included former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who said he was confident that working together was important and could eliminate the issue of inequity.

“‘If we go separately, we will sink separately. It is only if we go together that we will be able swim together…we would be side-lined if we do not walk together.”

AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs and Trade, Albert Muchanga, advised that vaccination issues were exacerbated by export restrictions from countries, such as those in the European Union, which poses a challenge for the AU to get the 1.5 billion doses to vaccinate at least 800 million people to achieve population immunity.