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Amazing! Waiting on Cuban and Russian vaccines?

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There is a most interesting and even amazing development in the effort to vaccinate as many of our people as possible against the deadly COVID -19 pandemic. It is the increasing excuses being given for hesitancy/refusal to take the vaccines being offered freely via the COVAX facility, currently the AstraZeneca variety.

With the government unable to ensure uptake on the thousands of vaccines it had either paid for, or been given under the COVAX arrangement, and having to make donations to neighbouring countries in order to avoid expiration, excuses are being given for this clearly embarrassing situation. Among these is the explanation that persons not yet vaccinated are “waiting on vaccines from Cuba and Russia”.

Much as I welcome such openness in terms of accepting alternatives from non-western sources, I cannot help but take this with more than the typical “spoonful of salt”. Is this an indication of growing confidence in the ability of so-called “non-traditional sources” to deliver safe vaccines? Or is it a convenient cover-up for not taking the vaccine available? Further, how do those giving this excuse expect to get the Cuban or Russian vaccines? Should the government, which has already expended human and financial resources to get vaccines for free distribution, only to have to offer them to “whosoever will may come”, just to avoid the embarrassment and waste of expiration, now go through this process again, with what guarantees of uptake? Are we prepared to pay for this personal preference of ours, to which we are well entitled, but equally obligated to shoulder the expenses?

Without knowing the numbers involved, I would be massively heartened if we are genuine in our search for alternatives to the “Big Pharma” sources. That Russia, and Cuba in particular, facing a 60-year old criminal embargo, could develop vaccines to combat such a global pandemic, speaks volumes for the Cuban health system and the priorities of Cuban society.

Many of us, including unfortunately some persons who have directly benefited from Cuban solidarity in the form of scholarships, do not appreciate the predicament facing that country and its people, and sometimes make negative comments on their quality of life. The global acceptance and desire for Cuban vaccines should make us think again.

If Cuba, facing extreme difficulty to obtain even basic supplies because of the US embargo, can on its own develop a highly-sought vaccine, even before official acceptance by the World Health Organisation (WHO), what can be its unfettered contribution to global health and development if that embargo should be lifted, as demanded repeatedly by the United Nations?

Again, if we so desire the Cuban vaccines, should we make our voices heard for the lifting of the embargo? Very few among us have been brave enough to register our opposition to such a gross violation of civilised international relations as that persistently practised by the USA and some of its allies.

But there is more to it locally. While it is true that over the years there has been a growing acceptance and appreciation of Cuban internationalist personnel among us, a lot of negative attitudes persist, including in some most unwelcome places. There are people in the medical profession for instance, who see Cuban medical professionals as “rivals” and display attitudes that are far from accommodating. The same goes for some senior government officials who seem oblivious to the conditions under which persons sent here to help us are accommodated; it is as if they don’t care how they make out here.

Many of us are little different. When scholarships for tertiary education were scarce, then Cuban scholarships were at a premium. But since then, thanks to the Gonsalves administration, opportunities have been opened in all parts of the world, Cuban scholarships are today, “knocking dawg” as we say.

Is it not time for us to begin to make an effort to better understand the circumstances which our Cuban sisters and brothers have to endure and battle against? Both of our political parties are in support of relations with Cuba, but we are yet to see any party-inspired campaign against the US embargo or in solidarity with Cuba. Our political leadership must take the lead in this and when government officials are delinquent, the Opposition must not hesitate to call them out.

Even a joint statement by both the ULP and the NDP against the embargo would be a giant step forward. Those charged with the running of the country should let public servants know that the people of this country deeply appreciate the service of the Cuban internationalists,(and other such personnel such as the volcano monitoring team), and that we should spare no effort to make them feel welcome, at home and cared-for by all.

In the absence of such clear demonstrations of appreciation and solidarity, we would seem very opportunist in our claim to be waiting for the Cuban, and Russian vaccines. There is a line from an old musical movie, “My Fair Lady” which goes like this:

“Don’t talk of love, Show me”

(Note: Last week the column “SPORTS IN FOCUS” had promised a second and concluding part this week. I beg my readers to excuse the delay for the second part until next week in order to facilitate an urgent comment on matters relating to the COVID vaccine).

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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