ROSEAU — As the leader of a small Caribbean island still struggling to rebuild nearly four years after a devastating hurricane, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit never thought he would get a hold of COVID-19 vaccines swiftly. Then a call to India changed everything.
Last week, an airplane carrying two consignments of Covishield, the India-produced version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, landed in the Caribbean. One was for Barbados, which would receive 100,000 doses, and the other for Dominica, which received 70,000 doses.
“I must confess that I did not imagine that the prayers of my country would be answered so swiftly,” said Skerrit, who plans to use some of the supplies to vaccinate many of his 72,000 inhabitants in Dominica and share the rest with neighboring Caribbean islands.
Dominican Republic Vice President Raquel Pena said Thursday that India had donated 30,000 doses to her country. That’s on the heels of 100,000 doses India donated to Barbados and the 70,000 doses donated to Dominica earlier this month.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said in a text message Saturday that 12,000 people had been vaccinated on the island, mainly the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.
Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Dominica are among a handful of Caribbean and Latin American countries that are benefiting from the generosity of India, a pharmaceutical giant that isn’t a traditional foreign partner in the region but has started to use its drug making capabilities to bolster its image globally.
While the COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy has been met with mixed responses in some corners of India, it is being welcomed in the Americas, where countries have been forced to turn to China, Cuba and others to cope with the pandemic in one of the world’s hardest hit regions after being shut out of the United States market.
Poorer countries have been unable to compete for vaccines with wealthier nations which quickly sealed deals with drug makers, and many parts of the Caribbean and Central America are still weeks away from starting their campaigns. Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness last month accused rich countries of “hoarding” vaccines.
Trinidad and Tobago Keith Rowley said last week that he is not happy about how the global rollout of COVID vaccines is going.
“We are more than a little bit concerned that there is … or is to be … hoarding and price gouging,” of vaccines, the Prime Minister said in a press conference on Thursday with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Cayman Islands Governor Martyn Roper live streamed his COVID-19 vaccine injection to the world in January.
“This is the easiest thing I’ll do all day,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said as he waited nearby for his turn.
That the Cayman Islands, a small British dependent territory 10 times smaller than the state of Rhode Island and with a population just under 65,000, would have access to a COVID-19 vaccine before more independent and populous countries in the region such as Jamaica and the Bahamas, or even nearby Cuba, isn’t just good fortune, but a bit ironic: This may be one of the few times colonialism is paying off.
Once a dependency of Jamaica on behalf of the Crown, the Cayman Islands, a well-known tax haven, is among a handful of overseas territories in the Caribbean that for a change are reaping the benefits of their dependency status after years of complaining about a lack of assistance.
From the U.S. territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, to the British overseas territories of Cayman and the Turks and Caicos, to the Dutch territory of Aruba, some Caribbean nationals are finding that still being tied to the “mother country” is good thing during this global pandemic.
“We feel good that we have a good relationship with the mother country, the U.K.,” Cayman Health Minister Dwayne Seymour told the Miami Herald, ahead of his vaccination Thursday alongside the others in a bid to convince islanders the vaccine is safe. “We’re proud of the job that we have done, but I think we need to praise our relationship with the U.K. and being fortunate enough to have that relationship affords us to receive the vaccine so early.”
While nearly 60 million doses of COVID vaccine have been administered in the United States, most nations in the world have vaccinated hardly anyone. Trinidad and Tobago finally immunized its first front-line worker on Wednesday — but that was only possible because India donated doses to Barbados, which in turn handed out small batches to several of its Caribbean neighbors.