Hurricane season is fast approaching, and natural disasters will complicate Central American and Caribbean states’ efforts to vaccinate their populations. A recent volcanic eruption on the island of Saint Vincent offers a preview of just how disruptive these disasters can be. Further, stalled vaccination efforts as a result of climate-related events will add to the existing structural and economic issues facing an already vulnerable and distraught region that is seeing record numbers of migrants arrive at the U.S. border. Therefore, while U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that the United States will share excess vaccines with its allies in a few months is a welcome sign for the region, the president might need to speed up his timeline.
Central American and Caribbean states have struggled to vaccinate their citizens. The region’s governments, similar to many developing states, are falling behind the world’s wealthiest nations in acquiring vaccines. For instance, the New York Times recently reported that of the more than 500 million vaccine doses administered globally, more than 75% have gone to the world’s richest states. For comparison, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center notes that Central America and the Caribbean has received fewer than 45 million doses, not including those that have arrived via the COVAX mechanism. This is for a region that consists of more than 20 states. For much of 2021, vaccine acquisition has been a high priority for the region as it looks to reach herd immunity. At the current pace, forecasts predict Central America and Caribbean states will have wide access to vaccines only in 2022, and even well into 2023.
The region has had to fight for access to vaccines even while addressing the consequences of the pandemic, which have aggravated many of the region’s stressors. Since 2020, many have warned about another so-called lost decade for Latin America. With collapsed morgues and health systems, backsliding on the educational front with over 97% of students out of the classroom at the end of 2020, and rising levels of poverty, the multidimensional crisis will reverberate across the region for years to come.
For the Caribbean, the pandemic has caused severe economic contraction, wiping away years of economic growth. The region’s tourism-dependent states bore the brunt of the pandemic, as these economies contracted by 9.8% in 2020. And while the region might see upticks in economic growth as tourism slowly resumes, many states are cash-strapped, which means that the already debt-burdened Caribbean countries will have to incur additional debt in order to purchase vaccines, as well as provide support to citizens affected by the pandemic.
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