Barbados received its first tranche of 33,600 of the eagerly-anticipated vaccines, provided through the COVAX Facility, when a cargo flight landed on the tarmac of the Grantley Adams International Airport at 7:00 a.m. today.
And, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley was on hand to receive the vaccines, as well as Minister of Health and Wellness, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, various foreign diplomats, representatives from PAHO/WHO and the United Nations, and health officials.
Ms. Mottley later told those gathered for the brief ceremony that the COVAX arrangement, which is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, was necessary.
She thanked the representative countries for their contribution to its establishment, saying the COVAX facility provided an opportunity for equitable access to perhaps half of the countries of the world.
“The notion of COVAX, we have learnt, is the right notion. But what, perhaps, has been regrettable, has been the scale and the pace of implementation. To that extent, the global community must ask itself whether we ought not to have scaled it up more and we ought not to have premised it as the first line of defence to global security, because in the absence of this kind of equitable distribution country by country…, what we will get is a race with mutations and double mutations and variants that threaten to put each and every one of us at risk again,” she argued.
Highlighting the cooperation in the Caribbean as an example for the global community, Ms. Mottley reminded her audience that Barbados recently received 100,000 vaccines from India, and shared 10,000 with some neighbours in this region.
This generous spirit, she pointed out, had reaped rewards for this island, which received more vaccines than it had shared. She explained that the Caribbean community had looked at a coordinated plan of execution and not simply access.
The Prime Minister stated: “It does not sit easily among those who look on in the world that you can have stocks of vaccines just awaiting an expiry date, while others have no access to the vaccines. I don’t think it is necessarily even out of any malevolence or bad intentions, I think that what has happened is that in a very real sense, the global community and country by country, we have been so overwhelmed that we have not stepped back to see the reality and to take decisions on the basis of the reality of what confronts us. …
“It is like understanding the difference between vaccines and vaccination. Vaccines are essential but without vaccination there is no benefit …. I, today, have joined other Caribbean leaders in continuing to reach out to the global community to say, look, let us be sensible about how we coordinate distribution and match it to capacity to execute…. Without capacity to execute, all that we would have is access to vaccines, but we would not complete the mission without vaccinations.”
Ms. Mottley proffered the view that where there was a surplus of vaccines, countries should share them, as far as possible, since the race was on against mutations.
She noted that while some Barbadians were unsure about taking the vaccine, an increasing number had changed their minds and were now opting to be inoculated.
“There are many who are doubtful and we have to respect that, but we have to have the conversations as to what underpins that doubt or that sense of hesitancy. For us, we saw a change in this country where, at the beginning of this last outbreak when we did the start of Operation Seek and Save, 55 per cent of Barbadians being interviewed initially expressed hesitancy and concern about whether they would take the vaccines and 45 per cent said yes.
“Within two weeks that started to change and we saw a complete difference in the trajectory of interest in the vaccines. Within a month of that initial position, we saw and had data that suggested that 79.8 per cent, almost eight out of every 10 Barbadians, said give me the vaccine; we want it and two out of every 10 said they were not sure or they were not taking it,” she disclosed.
The Prime Minister stressed that Government’s duty was to ensure that every citizen and resident who wanted the vaccine, could have access to it.