Barbados Today: By the end of 2021 CARICOM is hoping to have at least 80 per cent of the region’s population fully vaccinated.

And while Caribbean governments will be rolling out strategies to achieve this goal, enforcing mandatory vaccination will not be among them.

This was revealed by new CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne following the conclusion of the 42nd Regular Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Governments this evening.

Speaking to members of the media via Zoom, Browne said reaching 80 per cent herd immunity was critical if islands in the region were to get their economies back on track.

He admitted that even though small countries were experiencing difficulties in procuring vaccines, an increased effort would be made by CARICOM to secure the necessary quantity.

“We are determined to achieve 80 per cent herd immunity in the region by yearend. In this regard, we have agreed to redouble our efforts to acquire adequate supplies of vaccines,” Browne said.

“Heads have been utilizing their efforts now for several months to access vaccines from various sources. You’d be aware that the US has promised to assist us with vaccines and we also have a possible source from the African platform. Other bilateral arrangements have been made to get sufficient vaccines so that we can fully inoculate our respective populations within the region.

“The world is literally opening up with us and we have to move quickly to achieve herd immunity so that we can control the further spread of COVID and its variants. We obviously have to move assiduously to try and avoid further hospitalizations and death. But most importantly is to achieve herd immunity so that we can protect our economies from further wounds. The wounds that have been inflicted the last 16 months are extremely deep and it is important for us to return to normalcy, but the only way to return to normalcy is through herd immunity,” Browne maintained.

The chairman conceded that vaccine hesitancy among the region’s population was a worrying concern.

While he said governments would not move to make vaccinations mandatory, he said other efforts would be made to try to convince persons to take the jab.

Browne said it would include the rolling out of a “robust” public education programme.

“We’ve been extremely concerned about the issue of vaccine hesitancy within the region and strategies were actually considered to try and get our people to take up these vaccines in order to protect lives and livelihoods,” Browne said.

“As far as tackling vaccine hesitancy, there is no policy of mandatory vaccination. What we have chosen instead is to utilize persuasion and using very influential persons within the society and obviously to have a very strong and robust public education programme in order to encourage individuals to get vaccinated.

“We have agreed on a harmonized programme to be developed and one in which we will urge individuals, especially those on the frontline…”

To date, more than 95,000 Barbadians have received their first vaccination, while over 71,000 are fully vaccinated.

However, that represents less than 25 per cent of Barbados’ population of 290,000 who are fully vaccinated.

Just last week the island received 30,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccinations from China.

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