Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley addresses the Caricom meeting yesterday.

Caricom chairman Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has thanked the governments of India and of the African Union for allowing Caricom countries to have a pathway to access COVID-19 vaccines.

He also reiterated thanks to Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley for work on accessing vaccines for regional states.

Rowley did so at yesterday’s start of the 32nd Caricom Inter-Sessional Meeting.

The two-day meeting involving other Caricom leaders and other stakeholder delegates is being done virtually. The COVID-19 pandemic, its effects on the region, efforts towards vaccines and plans to deal with pandemic fall-out are top of the agenda.

Rowley said the region continues to be challenged with various responses to the pandemic that has disrupted every segment of society.

“This pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of our community and those of many other small-island developing states. To ensure our post-pandemic recovery we must continue calling for the broadening of existing economic vulnerability indices that take into consideration the impact that climate change, natural disasters and global pandemics have on our development.”

“This will permit small-island developing states access to much needed concessional financing to aid our recovery and build resilience.”

He said CARICOM has been invaluable in the fight of member states against COVID-19.

“The evidence of this has been replete over the last year. The continued support provided to the community by our regional institutions led by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and the most fervent demonstrations of regional solidarity through the sharing of PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment), reagents and Test Kits and most recently, vaccines, have had significant impacts on our ability to combat the ravages of this nefarious disease.

He noted the generosity of the Governments of Barbados and Dominica in sharing their vaccine gifts, received from the Government of India.

“It is particularly noteworthy and commendable. Prime Minister Mottley your pioneering role in securing the community’s access to vaccines through the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) showed great ingenuity, foresight and stamina.”

“Allow me to also express my sincerest appreciation to the governments of India and of the African Union for their benevolence and allowing us a pathway to access much-needed vaccines to safeguard the health of the people of our community.”

“We continue to anticipate that our many approaches, requests and orders will soon result in satisfying deliveries of approved vaccines for our anxious populations.”

He expressed gratitude to all in the international community who supported Caricom’s community throughout the pandemic.

Rowley said the pandemic has also magnified global asymmetries as exemplified by the access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the early months of the pandemic and more recently through access to vaccines.

He said it was in that context, as Caricom chairman, he wrote the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) proposing a Global Summit be convened as soon as possible. This was to address issues related to equitable access and vaccine distribution.

Consequently, he was invited to participate at a WHO briefing on COVID-19 last week where he reiterated Caricom’s call for the convening of an international convention of the world’s people’s representatives to commit to the equitable sharing of available vaccines.

He welcomed commitments by the US, UK, Northern Ireland, France and Germany to the global mechanism, COVAX and to the equitable allocation of vaccines.

“As we meet here now we are all anxiously awaiting our first shipments of the life-saving vaccines from the COVAX experiment,” he said.

Region very vulnerable

Rowley noted global measures to slow pandemic spread, “Most notably shutdowns and travel bans, have impacted all segments of society and completely transformed our way of life.”

“The pandemic has precipitated major economic fallout, stagnation and decline, throwing the global economy into a tailspin with very little sign of early recovery.”

“Our community, although having achieved relative success in our fight against COVID-19, has been identified as one of the region’s most vulnerable to the virus especially when the effect that travel bans have had on tourism services in our region are taken into consideration.

He said this sector is crucial to the survival of many Caricom states and associate members.

CARICOM’s Single Market and Economy (CSME), must also continue to be advanced and to strengthen the integration process and harness the CSME to propel economic recovery and rebuild better.

Rowley said the virus has reminded everyone of the importance and relevance of regionalism, multilateralism and South-South cooperation in the world today, particularly, during times of crisis.

“Let us all remember, together we are stronger, together we are louder, never to be ignored never to be insignificant.”