COVID-19 Vaccine Commission could be too little, too late

We probably should have known better, but we in this space assumed that the Government had already put in place a body akin to what the Ministry of Health and Wellness announced this week as a National COVID-19 Vaccine Commission.

As things stand, any country that has not taken a proactive, even aggressive approach to acquiring and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine could find itself at the back of the line as nations jostle and elbow each other to put their population in the best situation possible.

Still, we hope it’s not too little, too late, and we welcome the multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder group named Tuesday by Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton as being tasked with overseeing the design, deployment, implementation, and monitoring of the vaccine in Jamaica.

Acquiring the vaccine in this first phase is already shaping up to be a royal scuffle because rich nations, according to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) dispatch, are hoarding doses of the COVID-19 vaccines at the expense of poor countries.

We know that Britain has already picked up its order and on Tuesday vaccinated the first person in the world, a 90-year-old woman, with the Pfizer product.

The European Union has ordered 200 million doses, with an optional 100 million doses.

Canada has approved the Pfizer vaccine and is shortly to start vaccinations.

Jamaica is heavily relying on the COVAX arrangement set up by the World Health Organization for lower-income countries, and under which 700 million doses of vaccines have been facility.

But ordering the vaccines is not the same as getting it. BBC quoted a coalition calling itself the People’s Vaccine Alliance, as saying that people living in poor countries are set to miss out, because nearly 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people, based on what vaccines are available to them.

And this is despite Oxford-AstraZeneca pledging to provide 64 per cent of its doses to people in developing nations. Yet, their vaccine “could still only reach 18 per cent of the world’s population next year at most”.

The coalition, a network of organisations including Amnesty International, Oxfam and Global Justice Now, said, even though the rich countries represent just 14 per cent of the world’s population, they have bought up 53 per cent of the most promising vaccines so far, enough to vaccinate their entire populations three times over.

Canada, for example, has ordered enough vaccines to protect each Canadian five times over, the Alliance claims. It said so far, all of Moderna’s doses and 90 per cent of Pfizer/BioNTech’s have been acquired by rich countries.

Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott put it quite starkly when she said: “…Unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 for years to come.”

Dr Tufton’s National COVID-19 Vaccine Commission has absolutely no time to spare. And it would be well advised to ensure the Opposition is on board to make our approach a truly national one.

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