Letters & Opinion

Can COVID Diplomacy help Bridge the China-Taiwan Gap?

The Arms Race continues for Caribbean shoulders in the World War Against COVID-19

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

The COVID arms race for Saint Lucian shoulders is now on, all must be done to ensure it doesn’t stop until the ultimate vaccination aim is achieved and the country can proclaim ‘Mission Accomplished!’

But that will take some time — and quite a lot.

With 28,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines here (25,000 from India, 2,000 from Dominica and 1,000 from Barbados), 14,000 persons can be vaccinated in quick time — a mere 7.7% of the population.

It’s like a drop in the COVID ocean, but can be a very good starting rate by global standards, considering that only 5% of Germans and 10% of Americans have already got their first jab.

The early start is also galvanized by growing realization that COVID is real — and not about to go away – and while wearing masks is uncomfortable for all and the protocols prohibit, they also protect.

People are now also quicker able to tell the vaccines have been working elsewhere, or are trusted by more people than earlier thought.

But Vaccine Nationalism is the new name of the game in Europe, the latest manifestation being Italy’s refusal to allow shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to Australia from its soil, since the manufacturers had not yet delivered on contractually-agreed quotas.

More EU member-states are also quickly turning to the Chinese and Russians vaccines, if only because of their demonstrated ability to deliver greater numbers in shorter time.

The one-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to be a global game-changer, its single-shot attractiveness making it an immediate top-favourite — but it’ll also come with a competitive cost in the profit war for wider margins.

Like the virus, the vaccines don’t discriminate.

They’ve so far been only (or mainly) for people aged 18 to 64, as children and elderlies were wisely excluded from the first hurried clinical trials.

But just as time heals wounds, the efficacy of Oxford-AstraZeneca — on the basis of results from the UK and Scotland on persons over 65 — led to it being now approved for over 65s in France and Germany.

Tests are also only now being carried out on children and pregnant women.

In the main, the numbers are showing that vaccination works, as people everywhere who’ve had the jabs say they do feel and get better – and its better being safe than sorry.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVAX facility promises to deliver two million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses to the Caribbean and other developing countries by year’s end.

But with delivery problems and the continuing associated uncertainty, governments must move to ensure guaranteed availability of the number of vaccines required – meaning: they cannot put all the Caribbean’s COVID-19 eggs in the one COVAX basket.

The Caribbean’s leaders must therefore widen the search for solutions beyond the horizon.

The long-awaited Cuban vaccines will likely arrive by June, but in the meantime new lights are starting to shine where darkness prevailed, as the world learns new lessons every day from everywhere about all the vaccines rolled-out to date.

For example, the Chinese have developed three that are being accepted more widely after Hong Kong bought into them; the Russian vaccine is also making increasing headway on both sides of the Atlantic; and the Israelis have proven that vaccines don’t have to be refrigerated at sub-zero temperatures.

With the COVID fight now blessed by both of Saint Lucia’s political leaders ahead of this year’s General Elections, the country cannot afford to ‘run out’ of vaccines just because of possible late deliveries or other unforeseen complications affecting manufacturers.

To avoid that costly and deadly eventuality, the 70% Herd Immunity level must be catered for in advance – that is 250,000 vaccines for at least 126,000 Saint Lucians (at two jabs per person).

Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose jab will require less vaccines, but expectedly at more cost.

But while the rest of the world will not be safe until all developing countries are safely vaccinated, rich nations continue to buy, gobble-up and hoard more different types of vaccines than entire populations will need, causing costly delivery delays for countries most in need and least able to afford.

Saint Lucia and the Caribbean therefore need to look, think and act outside the box in the search for workable solutions.

And Vaccine diplomacy can indeed be taken to yet another fruitful level, above the usual political fray.

For example: China has undertaken to make one billion vaccines available to developing countries and Beijing has offered two billion dollars’ worth of loans to Latin American and Caribbean countries to purchase their vaccines, which are proving more efficient by the month.

China has a factory in Brazil supplying the continent’s most populous nation and the increasing number of Latin American and Caribbean states accessing its vaccines, including Guyana.

The Russian vaccine, which has also been delivered in Argentina and other Latin American states, has also been approved in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The CARICOM Alliance, therefore, can take a good look at where these realities fit into the region’s COVID puzzle.

This World War Against COVID offers too, other new possibilities of taking vaccine diplomacy beyond the pale — even to unimaginable proportions.

Take for instance, Taiwan’s incessant yet insistent knuckle-hurting knocking on the WHO’s door and its expressed commitment to assist the rest of the world in the global COVID fight.

With China and Taiwan as friends and despite Castries presently having ties with Taipei, given the unique history of relations with both, what’s to prevent Saint Lucia from approaching China for vaccine support with Taiwan’s blessings?

Impossible, you say?

No, it’s happened before — when Beijing allowed Taiwan to participate in the Olympic Games as ‘Chinese Taipei’.

Can it happen again?

We’ll never know until it happens… But it’ll never happen until it’s tried.

As always, all that’s required is the first step!

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