Caribbean Community leaders met virtually for an entire day last week and, as was widely expected, one of the main topics they deliberated on was the difficulty the region was experiencing accessing the growing array of COVID-19 vaccines for use in the 15-nation bloc.

Leaders complained of being shut out of the global distribution system despite the fact that the region is a major tourism destination and also because travel between the bloc and the U.S., for example, is still active. Therefore it would be helpful if citizens from the region and North Americans who frequent vacation destinations are both immunized against the disease.

The only allocation the region has received so far was a shipment of 170,000 doses from India, courtesy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that was sent in the past month for Barbados and Dominica. The two, however, shared small amounts with other bloc members mostly to vaccinate frontline workers.

“We’re issuing a statement on our concern and dissatisfaction with the way we have been literally squeezed out of access to vaccines,” Trinidad Prime Minister and current group Chairperson Keith Rowley said. “We know that there is a world shortage of vaccines but what has been put in place to allow countries like us to have access to the vaccines have not been working along those lines. The end result is that at this time, we have only had fortunately one gift of 175,000 doses of the vaccines within our region,” he said.

The statement was issued as individual countries have been seeking to bilaterally obtain supplies from a range of countries including Russia and China while awaiting Cuban test results of its own COVID-19 vaccine. Rowley and fellow leaders said many bloc nations can afford to source the vaccines if available.

“Heads of government noted that to date, even countries with the funds to purchase, have been unable to procure and receive vaccines through commercial arrangements, given the relatively small volumes which they seek. We urge developed countries, and especially those in our neighborhood whose populations travel frequently to our region, and who host our largest diaspora populations, to make some available to the community, initially as an interim supply given the immediacy of the need. Caricom has taken a decision to write to the governments of some traditional partners on the matter.”

The region is complaining as individual governments battle to contain the spread of the virus and allow for a gradual reopening of economic activities with tourist arrival drastically reduced because of shuttered airports and grounded airlines.

Barbados, for example, is only this week beginning to emerge from a second major country lockdown since the first early last year, while Jamaica has once again tightened restrictions in the wake of the latest spike in cases: 9,000 active with 433 deaths and 252 hospitalizations.

From this week, non-essential state workers will be ordered to work from home while private businesses have been urged to take similar action. The ban on nonstop flights from the United Kingdom is extended until month end Prime Minister Andrew Holness said.

In the meantime, a number of countries including Guyana, The Bahamas Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad have been able to source small amounts. Shipments will arrive by mid-March. Jamaica, for example, will get 1.8 million doses from the African Medical Supply Platform early next month as well as a gift of 50,000 from India this week.

“Heads of government, therefore, call for a mechanism that allows smaller countries to have access to sufficient vaccines at the earliest juncture if action is to be put behind the oft-repeated phrase that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe,’” PM Rowley said.