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Caribbean Appeals To Biden To Share Vaccines With U.S. ‘Third Border’

HAVANA — Several Caribbean island nations have issued a plea to the United States to share its stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines with the region as it has said it would with Mexico and Canada, calling on it not to neglect its “third border.”

The independent island states of the Caribbean archipelago — except for Cuba, which is developing its own homegrown vaccines — have complained of inequitable global access to vaccines hurting countries like them without the financial or political heft to seal deals.

These nations have only received a dribble of shots as donations from India or through the COVAX vaccine-sharing mechanism, while neighboring Caribbean islands that are still territories of former colonial powers, like the Cayman islands, have already started mass vaccinations.

The tourism-dependent economies of Caribbean nations are among those that have been most ravaged by the pandemic, which has devastated the travel industry, forcing the already debt-laden region to take on new loans.

And several Caribbean countries, including Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, are experiencing severe COVID-19 outbreaks at the moment with new cases per capita more than twice the global average.

Caribbean Appeals To Biden To Share Vaccines With U.S. 'Third Border'

The head of the CARICOM Caribbean bloc, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley, has written to U.S. President Joe Biden seeking provision of World Health Organization-approved vaccines for the region, a foreign affairs ministry source told Reuters, confirming an earlier report by Trinidadian newspaper Newsday.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States plans to send roughly four million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that it is not using to Mexico and Canada in loan deals with the two countries, the White House said last week.

The Biden administration has come under pressure from countries around the world to share vaccines, particularly its stock of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is authorized for use elsewhere but not yet in the United States.

AstraZeneca has millions of doses made in a U.S. facility, and has said it would have 30 million shots ready at the beginning of April.

The governments of Caribbean twin-island nations St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda have also written to the Biden administration.

“I have myself indicated to the United States that … having benefited the other two borders Mexico and Canada, that it would perhaps be useful for them to think of their ‘third border’, the Caribbean,” Mark Brantley, the minister of foreign affairs for St. Kitts and Nevis, said at a virtual forum hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS) last week.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said he underscored the fact that the economies of Caribbean island states had shrunk up to 30 percent, with unemployment rising to more than 50 percent in some cases.

“The vulnerability of states must become an important criterion in the provision of vaccines, and the Caribbean region is among the most vulnerable in the world,” he wrote.

Jamaica last week became the first Caribbean country to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, but at just 14,400 doses it will not go far among the island nation’s nearly 3 million inhabitants.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in Port of Spain; Additional Reporting by Kate Chappell in Kingston and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Health Department Doesn’t Use COVID-19 Vaccine Currently On Hold In Europe

CHRISTIANSTED — The U.S. Virgin Islands does not use the COVID-19 vaccine that is currently on hold in Europe.

According to the Virgin Islands Department of Health website, the VIDOH has only authorized ​​​​Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the territory.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain became the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators have said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

Leading public health agencies, including the World Health Organization, say that millions of people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine without experiencing blood clotting issues, and they caution that experts have not found a causative link between the vaccine and the conditions.

Health Department Doesn't Use COVID-19 Vaccine Currently On Hold In Europe

Germany’s health minister said the decision to suspend AstraZeneca shots was taken on the advice of the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.

“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Jens Spahn said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his country will likewise suspend shots until at least Tuesday afternoon. Italy’s drug regulator announced a temporary ban, less than 24 hours after saying the “alarm” over the vaccine was unjustified. And Spain said it will stop using the vaccine for two weeks while experts review its safety.

In the coming weeks, AstraZeneca is expected to apply for U.S. authorization of its vaccine. The U.S. now relies on Pfizer’s, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines.

AstraZeneca said there have been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the 27-country EU and Britain. The drugmaker said there is no evidence the vaccine carries an increased risk of clots.

In fact, it said the incidence of clots is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar to that of other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.

The World Health Organization and the EU’s European Medicines Agency have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.

“Many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons,” the European Medicines Agency said. The incidence in vaccinated people “seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population.”

The agency said that while the investigation is going on, “the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects.”

Blood clots can travel through the body and cause heart attacks, strokes and deadly blockages in the lungs. AstraZeneca reported 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis, or a type of clot that often develops in the legs, and 22 instances of pulmonary embolisms, or clots in the lungs.

The AstraZeneca shot has become a key tool in European countries’ efforts to boost their sluggish vaccine rollouts. It is also pillar of a U.N.-backed project known as COVAX that aims to supply COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries. That program continues unaffected by the European suspension.

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are also used on the European continent, and J&J’s one-shot vaccine has been authorized but not yet delivered.

Denmark last week became the first country to temporarily halt use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It said one person developed clots and died 10 days after receiving at least one dose. The other countries include Ireland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo and Bulgaria.

Canada, Britain and several smaller European countries are standing by AstraZeneca’s vaccine for now.

Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton in England, said there is no data yet to justify suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine and called the decision “baffling.”

“Halting a vaccine rollout during a pandemic has consequences,” Head said. “This results in delays in protecting people, and the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy, as a result of people who have seen the headlines and understandably become concerned.”

Spahn, the German health minister, said of the decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine: “The most important thing for confidence is transparency.” He said both first and second doses would be suspended.

German authorities have encouraged anyone who feels increasingly ill more than four days after receiving the shot — for example, with persistent headaches or dot-shaped bruises — to seek medical attention.

Germany has received slightly over 3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and about half of those have so far been administered, compared with almost 7 million of the Pfizer shot and about 285,000 from Moderna.

The head of the Spanish Medicines Agency, Maria Jesús Lamas, said Spain detected its first case of clots on Saturday. She said the ban was “not an easy decision” because it further slows the nation’s vaccination campaign, but it was the “most prudent” approach.

Almost 940,000 people in Spain have received the AstraZeneca shot.

Some European countries have begun reimposing restrictions in a bid to beat back a resurgence in infections, many of them from variants of the original virus.

In Italy, 80% of children nationwide couldn’t attend classes after stricter rules in more regions took effect on Monday. In Poland, bolstered restrictions were applied to two more regions, including Warsaw. Paris could go into lockdown in a matter of days because intensive care units are getting swamped with COVID-19 patients.

And calls are growing in Germany to “ pull the emergency brake” in regions where cases are rising.