- The Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism for Jamaica, today shared his thoughts on Vaccine Diplomacy.
- Even though more than a billion vaccines have been given, the world’s poorest countries are now faced with the risk of becoming victims of a great moral failure linked to the acutely inequitable distribution of vaccine supplies globally.
- The Health Without Borders initiative by the World Tourism Network agrees with the minister’s assessment, warning that tourism recovery and recovery overall in this interconnected world could be delayed for years unless a solution for faster vaccine distribution to everyone is established.
Minister Bartlett said in his assessment:
As the global economy tries to navigate its second year of disruption, instability, and deep economic recession linked to the ongoing pandemic, global attention has now largely shifted to identifying the conditions that are necessary to facilitate economic recovery in the safest and shortest time possible. Against the backdrop of this objective, the year 2021 has been marked by an aggressive global push by world leaders and the scientific community to develop and supply large volumes of clinically approved vaccines to countries across the world.
As of May, 2021, more than 1.06 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, the equivalent of 14 doses for every 100 people. The World Health Organization has noted that at least seven different vaccines across three platforms have been rolled out across countries with more than 200 additional vaccine candidates in development, of which more than 60 are in clinical development. It is expected that several billions of vaccines will be produced globally throughout 2021.
This is undoubtedly a promising development. In terms of the global battle against the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better place than we were several months ago. Notwithstanding, there is, however, a serious emerging concern that must be seriously and urgently addressed if the global vaccination drive is to maintain its integrity and achieve the desired result of global COVID herd immunity.
The world’s poorest countries are now faced with the risk of becoming victims of a great moral failure linked to the acutely inequitable distribution of vaccine supplies globally. The reality is that only 7.3% of the world’s population of over 7 billion people have received at least one dose of a vaccine to date.
This is in light of the warning from epidemiological experts, that more than 75% of the world’s population will need to be vaccinated to bring the pandemic fully under control. More significantly, 48 % or nearly half of doses administered so far have gone to high-income countries or just 16 % of the world’s population.
While one in four people in high-income countries have now been vaccinated against Covid-19, only one in more than 500 people in poorer countries have received a jab.
Based on the current trend of vaccine inequity it is estimated that the world’s poorest 92 countries will not be able to reach a vaccination rate of 60 percent of their populations until 2023 or later. What this means is that, realistically, any possibility of global herd immunity is likely many months — if not years — away, which could extend the crisis indefinitely.
From a regional perspective, tourism writer David Jessop notes that while some Caribbean nations, most notably the Cayman Islands, Aruba, and Montserrat, have fully vaccinated significant percentages of their population, vaccine roll out in most of the independent Caribbean lags far behind.
The estimates provided indicate that Antigua has administered at least one dose to 30 % of its population; Barbados and Dominica 25%; St Kitts 22%; Guyana 14%; St Vincent 13%; St Lucia and Grenada 11%; Belize 10%; the Dominican Republic 9%; Suriname 6%; The Bahamas 6%; Jamaica 5%; and Trinidad 2%.
Considering the now presumed importance of vaccination to global stability leaders in the Caribbean and in other parts of the developing world must come together to project strength and a unified voice in raising our concerns in all international fora about vaccine inequity. Indeed, the current state of vaccine inequity has to be dramatically reversed as global economic recovery efforts cannot afford to be delayed or prolonged for years, especially among the worst-affected regions.
The tourism sector, in particular, must be at the forefront of the global campaign against vaccine inequity. The tourism sector supports one in every ten jobs globally. This translates to over 330 million jobs, of which roughly 60 to 120 million have already been lost since last year.
Tourism-dependent economies, such as those in the Caribbean, have already lost 12 % of their GDP compared to a global economic contraction of 4.4 %. Tourism is the engine of growth in the Caribbean and its prolonged disruption constitutes an economic catastrophe with rippled effects for all segments of national economies.
Indeed, the millions of citizens who both directly and indirectly depend on tourism for their economic livelihoods are desperate to be thrown a lifeline. The credible evidence now suggests that tourism has earned the status of an industry that is too big to fail. it is therefore imperative that the sector survives during and beyond the current crisis so that it can continue to fulfil its vital role as a significant catalyst of global economic recovery and growth.
The tourism industry, at both the global and region levels, must speak up about vaccine equity louder than it already has and assume a more significant role in tackling the issue if the industry is to return to any sense of normality as without vaccine equity, there will be no travel recovery. Obviously, the sooner the pandemic ends, the sooner people will start traveling again and generate valuable incomes for the citizens of host countries.
The industry thus has a vested interest in making sure that recovery happens as quickly as possible. Importantly, persons within the industry have platforms, connections, expertise, and global influence and are therefore able to articulate clearly and loudly to policymakers about the consequences of how things are going but also how they can function in a more morally appropriate manner. The tourism industry, in fact, has a moral obligation to speak for the millions of tourism workers across the region and the world who are facing unprecedented hardships.
In the final analysis, if Caribbean economic recovery is to begin this year if employment is to be restored and tourism return in a significant way, many more vaccines need to be made available very soon. The issue of vaccine supply is therefore not just for protecting public health, but for longer-term economic recovery and stability.
If the global distribution of vaccines becomes significantly equitable throughout the rest of the year, there is a strong possibility that the return of tourism to a near-normal level by year-end and beyond will be quite possible. Indeed, we can see a significant boost in tourist arrivals as we head into the 2021 Winter Tourism season if we address this pressing matter of vaccine inequity.
In the interim, as minister of tourism, I will continue to make the case for frontline tourism workers to be among the priority groups for early vaccination, with the hope that most will be fully vaccinated in the short order
This will be critical in terms of ensuring that we are able to gain the confidence of the millions of persons from markets with high vaccination rates, who may travel shortly, that destination Jamaica is safe, and that there is very little risk of infection in coming here. Thus, the general competitiveness of our tourism sector will be linked to the efficacy and speed of vaccination within the sector.
The Hon. Minister Bartlett is a recipient of the Tourism Hero Award by the World Tourism Network for his global leadership in the fight for tourism to survive the global pandemic.