CARICOM’s COVID-19 vaccination status – a continuing concern

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By Elizabeth Morgan

Several CARICOM countries have the lowest COVID vaccination rates in the Americas and among some of the lowest in the world along with Africa

At the 33rd Inter-sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Belize, March 1-2, the Heads, as expected, considered COVID-19 and its impact on the region, which remains a priority issue and continues to have implications for economic recovery. In the Meeting Communiqué, the Heads;

  • acknowledged the continued comprehensive response to COVID-19 by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the CARICOM Secretariat, and the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO);
  •  agreed that Member States would continue to support the multi-sectoral and inter-sectoral regional public health response led by CARPHA supported by the Regional Security System (RSS) and other Regional Institutions;
  • acknowledged that the economic impact of the pandemic has required that Member States re-imagine their development strategies and global economic engagement;
  •  mandated the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to coordinate the formulation of a regional resource mobilisation strategy to raise the funding required to drive the economic recovery programme;
  •  stressed the need for the continuation of public health measures, including masks, testing, isolation and quarantine, and supported CARPHA’s recommendations for safe and sustainable air and sea travel to protect the Region.
  • noted the challenges in achieving desired levels of vaccination. They agreed to mount a regional campaign to combat the disinformation that encourages vaccine hesitancy; and
  •  agreed to explore a strategy for manufacturing vaccines in the Region.

CARICOM’s low Covid Vaccination rates

I have heard it said that COVID measures in Jamaica can be relaxed as people in this country may have attained herd immunity, in spite of Jamaica’s rate of full vaccination being about 22%. Considering the COVID section in the CARICOM Communiqué, I decided to look at the vaccination rates across the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO), at the end of 2021, set a target of 70% of the population of each Member State being fully vaccinated by June 2022. Prior to this, the target was 40% by the end of 2021. Several CARICOM countries did not reach the latter target.

In the western hemisphere, several CARICOM countries, at the beginning of March, were still under 40% of the population fully vaccinated. These were Bahamas 39%; Montserrat 35%; Grenada 33%, St. Lucia 28%, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 26%; Jamaica 22%; and Haiti 0.9%. In fact, in this hemisphere, CARICOM countries have the lowest levels of vaccination along with Guatemala at 33%.

 Most of the countries of the Americas are over 40% and several, including Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Canada, are now over 70% vaccinated. In fact, South America has become a world leader in vaccinations with over 64% of the continent’s population vaccinated by January. Canadians are 82% vaccinated, in spite of the recent trucker protest over vaccine mandates. The USA is 65%.

In the rest of the world, the United Kingdom and the Member States of the European Union (EU) are now in the region of 75% fully vaccinated. For the EU, refugees from the war in Ukraine could pose some challenges as the Ukraine population was only about 36 % fully vaccinated. In Asia, there are also high levels of vaccinations, with Singapore 86%, China 88%, Japan 79%, Thailand 71%, South Korea 86%, Vietnam 80% and Hong Kong 84% . In Oceania, Australia and New Zealand are both at 81%

The continent with the lowest level of Covid-19 vaccinations is Africa, where up to February, only 11% of the population was vaccinated. Most of the countries in Africa are well below 40% fully vaccinated. South Africa is at 30% and Kenya 15%.

So, it appears that most countries in the Americas, western Europe, Asia, some in  the Middle East, and in Oceania, could reach or exceed the WHO’s 70% target by mid-2022. Herd immunity, it appears, requires about 90% and above of those vaccinated and/or contracting the virus.

An interesting case to monitor is the current COVID Omicron outbreak in Hong Kong which seems to be most severe among its unvaccinated, vulnerable senior citizens. Mass testing is being implemented.

I take specific note that CARICOM Heads stressed the need for the continuation of public health measures (protocols); supported CARPHA’s recommendations for safe and sustainable air and sea travel to protect the Region, and acknowledged the challenges in achieving desired levels of vaccination. They agreed to mount a regional campaign to combat the disinformation that encourages vaccine hesitancy.

I am concerned that if the majority of the countries in the Americas achieve the 70% vaccination target this year, and countries in CARICOM lag behind at 40% or less, this could further affect tourist arrivals and economic recovery in the islands. The Hong Kong case also indicates that there can still be serious COVID outbreaks, especially among the unvaccinated, as long as populations or sections of populations remain unvaccinated and protocols are not observed.

 I am hoping that new initiatives to encourage vaccination in CARICOM countries will bear fruit leading to an increase in vaccination figures taking countries, such as Jamaica, to even 40% fully vaccinated by June. We cannot become complacent. COVID is still here, and, as seen, other countries are moving ahead with their public health strategies for COVID management regardless of conspiracy theories and other obstacles.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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