FROM UNCLE SAM WITH LOVE: Biden assures Trinidad and Tobago of vaccines

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on a conference call in March. Photo courtesy Dr Rowley’s Facebook page -
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on a conference call in March. Photo courtesy Dr Rowley’s Facebook page -

UNITED STATES President Joe Biden has outlined the distribution process for that country's upcoming global covid19 vaccination donation and six million doses of those are set to be delivered to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is expected to benefit Trinidad and Tobago.

He announced this on the US government's website on Thursday afternoon.

Shortly after, deputy press secretary for vice president Kamala Harris tweeted that the VP had, in separate calls on Thursday, spoken with world leaders, including TT's Dr Rowley, notifying each leader that the US administration would begin to share the first 26 million doses of vaccines to their countries.

Rowley, on his Facebook page, also spoke of the telephone conference call with Harris.

"This is the very latest in a series of high-level contacts which the chairman of Caricom, Prime Minister Rowley, has been having with high-level officials of the US administration in recent weeks."

And on Monday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said an announcement will be made “sometime in the next week to two weeks” concerning this.

In March, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne said diplomatic sources at the US State Department said it was “considering the matter of vaccine access for the Caribbean.”

In May, the Prime Minister directly contacted Biden to ask for vaccines after he announced he intended to distribute 80 million vaccines overseas.

In a news conference at the White House, Biden said the donation would include 20 million Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that would be added to a previously-announced donation of 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines.

Last week, when asked for an update on this, Browne told Newsday, “We are fully utilising our diplomatic channels to follow all possibilities, in the best interest of all the people of TT.”

He said many meetings had been happening.

In Biden's official statement, he said, "As the US continues our efforts to get every eligible American vaccinated and fight covid19 here at home, we also recognise that ending this pandemic means ending it everywhere...And the US is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated at home.

"Today, we’re providing more detail on how we will allocate the first 25 million of those vaccines to lay the ground for increased global coverage and to address real and potential surges, high burdens of disease, and the needs of the most vulnerable countries."

He said "at least 75 per cent" of these doses will be shared through Covax, "including approximately six million doses for Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately seven million for South and Southeast Asia, and approximately five million for Africa, working in co-ordination with the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The remaining doses, just over six million, will be shared directly with countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners and neighbors, including Canada, Mexico, India, and the Republic of Korea."

He said strong "American leadership" is crucial in ending the pandemic.

No hidden agenda

After this, Harris held separate calls with Dr Rowley, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and presidents Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Mexico) and Alejandro Giammattei (Guatemala) informing them that the US government will begin sharing the first 25 million doses to their countries.

The US Embassy in Port of Spain also issued a release, saying the US "will make the final selection of where the vaccines will go but six million doses will go to Latin America and the Caribbean."

Its chargé d’affaires Shante Moore said, "The US Embassy in Port of Spain has worked closely with regional counterparts, the Government of TT, and officials in Washington DC to ensure the region would be included in this donation.

"This is an example of what we envision as a strategic bilateral partnership working together to address and resolve issues of mutual importance to the US, TT, and the region."

Moore said this isn't being done to secure favours, "extract concessions or pursue hidden agendas.

"We are giving them for a single purpose - to end the pandemic and save lives...We are sharing these vaccines, five times more than any other country has shared, to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our leadership, genuine concerns for humanity, and with our values.

"Up to 25 per cent of the 25 million vaccine doses will be used to help countries such as India dealing with immediate surges in a flexible manner. We are working on the regulatory and logistical issues of transporting the vaccines and will provide more country-specific information soon."

PAHO pleased

Also on Thursday, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) director Carissa F Etienne said the US government's commitment to Covax was a "good step forward in our drive to get vaccines into the arms of our people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We are grateful for this dose-sharing initiative and encourage other countries with surplus vaccines to follow the lead of the US.”

The dose-sharing approach will prioritise Latin American and the Caribbean on a per-capita basis.

Etienne said, “Effective vaccines are a beacon of hope in this crisis, and we must do all in our power to secure more doses for all nations in the Americas. Regional solidarity, including the donation of vaccine doses, will be key to get us through the current shortage of supply.

“This pandemic is far from over, and it is hitting Latin America and the Caribbean severely, affecting our health, our economies, and entire societies. Yet only about 4 per cent of our citizens have been fully vaccinated,” Dr Etienne said. “The region is an epicenter for covid19 suffering. It should be an epicenter for vaccination, too.

“Our most urgent need continues to be additional vaccines, and as we thank the US, I also want to repeat our call for other donations of vaccines to the countries of the Americas, which have a high epidemiological burden and not enough vaccines to reach a high proportion of their populations,” she added.

So far, Covax has delivered 17.6 million doses of vaccines to 31 countries in the Americas.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi hinted to a "serious vaccine train" coming to TT.

The number of vaccines TT has received so far:

67,200 Astra Zeneca from Covax

100,000 Sinopharm from China

40,000 AstraZeneca from India

16,000 AstraZeneca from St Vincent and the Grenadines

8,000 AstraZeneca from Bermuda

10,000 AstraZeneca from Grenada

2,000 AstraZeneca from Barbados

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