By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 31, 2021
The UK and the EU have populations of 68 million and 746 million people respectively. On Tuesday the UK tried to make up with the EU over its misunderstanding about the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. Boris Johnson, UK’s prime minister, sent Lord Eddie Lister, to Brussels, the headquarters of the EU, “as part of an effort to secure millions of doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine vital to UK’s fight against coronavirus” (FT, March 23).
Johnson’s outreach was an attempt to end a standoff over vaccines between the UK and the EU. Johnson called for “international cooperation” between the two political blocs and warned that “a surge in Covid-19 cases in the EU would end up hitting the UK” (FT, March 23.) Lister also visited India’s Serum Institute, “the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and a producer of the AstraZeneca jab, said a person with knowledge of the talks.” (FT, March 23).
T&T and India have populations of 1.4 million and 1.4 billion people respectively. Last week India ordered 100m doses from the Serum Institute and 20m more from Bharat Biotech, after it “exported more than 60m vaccines—significantly more doses than it has given its own people—prompting calls for the government to expand its vaccination drive” (FT, March 23).
As a result of this generosity, India was forced to severely curtail “exports of Covid-19 vaccines, triggering setbacks for vaccination drives in many other countries.” India is now “desperate for all the doses it can get” (NYT, March 25).
With infections rising and its vaccine drive sluggish; India needs to take care of its citizens. Covax, the program set up to purchase vaccines for poorer countries, said that nearly 100 million doses expected in March and April “would face delays because of increased demand for Covid-19 vaccines in India” (NYT, March 25). Like India, the EU is moving to curb exports of the vaccine.
In September 2020 our prime minister was at the United Nations meeting when Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India offered his vaccines to the developing world. The T&T government should have been one of the first countries to apply for assistance in this area. It did not. That was irresponsible. It was even more irresponsible to vilify the Indian High Commissioner for not contacting him about the availability of the vaccine. Instead, our prime minister intoned crisply and irresponsibly: “When you go to somebody asking for a gift, that is not a gift; you’re begging” (Express, 24 March).
Even the Leader of the Opposition erred diplomatically by writing to the Indian prime minister seemingly to outmaneuver the prime minister. Fortunately, the Trinidad Government came to its senses and worked out a modus vivendi with India and made an arrangement with China to ensure that it receives (or is able to buy) sufficient vaccines for its population.
The larger countries will always take care of their own first; the smaller countries having to catch as catch can. Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, noted: “Some large countries have purchased five times or more vaccines than they need using complex, opaque option arrangements that make it hard for vaccine producers to plan and to sell further production (sic)” (Express, March 24).
Plagues and pestilences have always been a part of human history. Before Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of the Bahamas at the end of the fifteenth century, “small pox, measles, cholera, influenza and many other infectious diseases did not exist in the Americas.” Europeans brought syphilis to the Caribbean (Thomas Bollyky, Plagues and the Paradox of Progress).
William McNeill argued that infectious diseases have been “one of the fundamental parameters and determinants of human history” (Plagues and People) and concluded, as Thomas J. Bollyky did, that plagues and pestilence have been sources of progress for humankind as a whole (Plagues and the Paradox of Progress).
Although plagues were a regular feature of early European societies, the Americas were relatively free from such dreaded pandemics. Their historical isolation and limited exposure to disease-ridden animals prevented them from being invaded by these pandemics. Because they were not exposed to many infectious diseases, “the indigenous populations of the Americas and the other more remote continents of the world were wiped out in large part by the viruses, bacteria, and parasites that accompanied European exploration, colonialization, and conquest” (Plagues and the Paradox of Progress).
Infectious diseases will always be amongst us. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the Oxford vaccine, wrote: “The end of the pandemic is not the end of the virus, it’s the end of an unsustainable impact on health systems” while Bollyky noted: “Pandemics such as cholera and yellow fever that would batter cities in the US every 10 or 15 years slowly disappeared, not because of vaccines, but through investments in sanitation and hygiene….Pandemics tend to expose failures to invest in health infrastructures and require governments to make sweeping changes to insure they do not return” (FT, March 13).
T&T has vaccinated 16,096 people with vaccines it received from Barbados which received them from India which led Orin Gordon to ask: “Isn’t that begging a beggar?”
Sooner or later, T&T will get the necessary vaccines to arrest the spread of the pandemic in our country. However, we will have to take care of our health challenges with all the sophistication and diplomacy that “begging” (or is it asking?) other countries and international health agencies require. That is not asking a lot.
My mother used to say: “A thief from thief, make God laugh.” However, “A beggar from a beggar make God stueps.” Let us not be carried away by our arrogance and bad taste.
Please don’t ever let God stueps on us.