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SVG may not receive COVID-19 vaccines before June – Gonsalves

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IT APPEARS THAT the Covid-19 vaccinations to be provided for 20 per cent of the population through the COVAX facility, may not be available by April after all.

In fact, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves stated on Wednesday, January 13, that he cannot even say if they will be available by June.

The COVAX facility is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi – the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It has the aim of guaranteeing fair and equitable access to the vaccines for every country in the world.

Through the facility, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is to be a beneficiary of free vaccines for 20 per cent of the population due to its category as an Advance Market Commitment (AMC) country.

Reflecting on a speech he made before the United Nations Assembly in September 2020, the Prime Minister revealed that he had feared that even despite the “good work of WHO”, and others through the COVAX facility, this “may not be enough for us to stem this selfishness by some rich countries wanting to hog all the vaccines.”

Gonsalves said that this is something that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is calling for a summit on.

“I know WHO is saying by the end of March beginning of April. I’ve been telling people that I hear that…but the way I see things we not going to get our 20 per cent of the population of St Vincent, the vaccines for them, by that period of time,” the Prime Minister disclosed.

Further, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen by June, because of certain facts which have come to our attention…and the WHO, I’m sure that they themselves are very concerned that it doesn’t look as though we will get the kinds of distribution that we ought to have.”

He noted that CARICOM is raising this as a very critical issue.

According to the Chief Medical Officer, Simone Keizer-Beache, in order to achieve herd immunity, SVG will need to provide vaccines to between 70 and 80 per cent of the population. This means that vaccines for 50,000 persons will need to be purchased through the Government.

Because SVG is in the AMC group, it may be possible to purchase the 50,000 additional vaccines at a reduced rate, through COVAX.

Dr Joy St John, the Executive Director of CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency), provided an update on the main candidate vaccines around the world, during a virtual press conference on Wednesday. She reviewed where they are in the stage of being approved by WHO.

For instance the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has been approved, the Moderna & NIAID is pending submission to WHO, while AstraZeneca & University of Oxford’s submission is being reviewed.

While these await approval, the CMO also clarified, “Even as we work with COVAX, there is also the opportunity to seek bilateral arrangements with private companies… so directly from the manufacturers – that opportunity is also there.”

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