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Spare a thought for others

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has made a plea to countries that have been stockpiling doses of COVID-19 vaccines to release their surplus to Jamaica and other states with a high demand for supplies.

Making the call in the House of Representatives yesterday, Holness said it would be a travesty for such countries to hang unto vaccines while other countries struggle to source adequate doses for their populations.

“We are calling on the countries that maintain large supplies of vaccines to release a portion of their stock to other countries — and were not asking for them to give [them to] us. I think that if countries hold stocks to the point of their expiration it would be the greatest tragedy to humanity,” he told the House.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called out countries for vaccine nationalism, notwithstanding the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access) facility which was designed to ensure equity in the vaccine market. Some rich countries have been dominating supplies via bilateral and other arrangements, forcing less-resourced countries to scramble to source supplies.

Holness urged countries that know, based on their vaccination trends, that they will not be able to exhaust current stocks, to make them available to countries like Jamaica that have shown that, “if we get the stocks we are not going to sit down on it, we are going to use it rapidly — [countries] who are not sitting down waiting on gifts”.

He pointed out that the Government has set aside funding to repurchase supplies for these donor countries when they need them.

“So, when you need it, we will order it and return it to you,” he said.

The prime minister said it is important that all countries move towards recovery evenly. “It can’t be that some people are fully vaccinated and ready to recover, and others are still suffering and struggling and can’t participate in the recovery. That is not fair,” he charged.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding joined the prime minister’s call stating, “It is indeed the heights of unfairness and inimical to man’s duty to man for any country to hang on to surplus stocks or expiring stocks when there are other countries that are prepared to borrow them and use them and return them in due course at no cost to the country making the loan of the vaccine.”

He further pointed out the lack of action by the international community to arrive at a solution to this issue.

Holness, in his presentation, also lauded the success of the four-day national vaccination blitz which ended yesterday and saw 100,000 people taking the vaccine at over 40 sites across the island . The categories of people offered the vaccine were significantly widened over the weekend, allowing thousands to step up for the jab impromptu and using up the 75,000 doses which arrived via the Africa Medical Supplies Platform mid-week.

Holness noted the overwhelming demand, advising that another 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are expected under the COVAX facility and 20,000 doses of Moderna, through a commercial arrangement, are scheduled to arrive this month. He said the Government continues to press for more supplies for the population through bilateral, multilateral and other arrangements.

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