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CDB President, Hyginus "Gene" Leon speaking at the press conference in June 2022. (CMC photo)
CDB President, Hyginus “Gene” Leon speaking at the press conference in June 2022. (CMC photo)
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PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands (CMC) — The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) says it sees little scope under its mandate to do more to help the Caribbean address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy even as the region has repeatedly been told that increasing vaccination rates is important for economic recovery.

“I don’t like to burst your bubble but CDB is not yet the republic of the Caribbean,” CDB president, Hyginus “Gene” Leon told the closing press conference of the bank’s 52nd annual meetings here on Thursday.

Leon said it is abundantly clear from the science and from the various institutions, including the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and the United States Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), “that vaccination rates have made a difference”.

He noted that instances of death as a result of COVID-19 among people vaccinated against the illness are severely reduced.

“And, therefore, it is an almost categorical statement that it is in the interest of everyone, everyone to get vaccinated,” Leon said.

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“That said, a number of us — not me — but a number of us believe that it is our right to not be vaccinated and do not want to vaccinate,” he added, noting that he does not know if the region “can turn the needle” on this view two years into the pandemic.

He said the well-documented issues related to access to vaccines, largely, have largely been resolved in the Caribbean. 

“What still remains an entrenched perspective that some members of society do not want to get vaccines and that vaccine hesitancy is not something CDB can dictate, is not something even the governments can dictate, it’s not something that scientists can dictate,” the president of the Barbados-based Bank said.

He said the CDB could think about how to increase communication, make people more aware, and reduce the perceptions “ill-informed or otherwise, that somehow taking the vaccine will have all manner of effects and impact on them”. 

“They are entitled to have and hold those views … We can provide more information, we can help but we haven’t had the supply problem we had, or at least not as severe,” Leon said.

“How do you get people to the point where they want to change their lives?” 

He noted that the CDB had three main key activities — to give policy advice on all manner of activities in the development space, provide funding for those activities, and provide technical assistance in various development areas. 

“And so, I can put the question back to you. Policy advice? What can we add more than what we have from the CARPHA and the PAHO and the broad scientists? I’d like to add maybe none. On the financing side, governments can only say they need to come to us for money to be able to procure vaccines. And we have already said that’s not as big an issue as it was at the beginning. Technical assistance – we don’t have experts that can do any more in the COVID-19 environment than the CARPHAs and the PAHOs that are on the ground already helping as many countries as they can,” Leon said.

“So, the role for us in that sense is limited. Where we can help – and we have been doing this and will continue to do it – is in terms of outreach … But I think that is not anything other governments in the region are not doing now. So, giving support, yes. But the question is, in terms of what we do and what we have the ability to do, is there anything that we could be doing more? And I think it’s a little hard to find that,” the CDB president added.