Like with other hardships, the most vulnerable seem to be the hardest hit. The disease has not affected persons or places equally, with some places having as much as 10 times the case fatality rates of others due to inequalities in baseline population health and the ability to manage severe COVID-19. While we have been able to manage the pandemic in the OECS with case fatality rates and cases per population rates lower than the global average, we continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic fall out of COVID, due to our highly tourism-dependent economies.
This is further compounded by the inequitable distribution of vaccines globally. While the United States boasts that more than half of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, in the Eastern Caribbean we have only been able to cover about 22% of the eligible population with the first dose.
The greatest limiting factor is the availability of vaccines. This is ironic given the size of our populations, and the relatively small numbers needed to reach population immunity. Without this coverage, it is difficult to be able to facilitate entry and exit requirements that facilitate the ability of the U.S. Government to assist in an emergency, including lifting COVID-19 related restrictions on entry by U.S.A and other foreign nationals.
The United States of America has the power to make available vaccines that can easily cover our populations with surpluses that for now are not even being used within the US. The OECS Member States are willing to lead in reducing requirements to travel while the world learns the impact of these vaccines, once we are able to vaccinate a significant proportion of our population as recommended by global health experts.
The Eastern Caribbean and Southern coast of the United States of America are economically tied through the cruise, travel and tourism industry and share the desire to see our economies recover. This is why the recent travel advisory update for Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is especially concerning. In Saint Lucia, for example, cases are decreasing and testing is increasing (the main criteria used for assessment by the CDC), however the level has gone from level 3 to level 4.
As Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is experiencing an ongoing eruption of the La Soufrière volcano, and as the Caribbean faces another upcoming and uncertain hurricane season, our ability to deal with COVID-19 will be further impacted. The OECS is looking to the USA to partner with us in the fight and in ensuring that our region becomes fully vaccinated against this disease.
COVID-19 has shown that it knows no boundaries, so if we are going to beat COVID, we need to do it together.