U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. led a letter signed by Democrats in the Florida delegation to urge President Joe Biden to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Biden administration announced last month it will make 20 million Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses available to the international community, on top of the 60 million unused Astra-Zeneca doses announced in April. The doses have not yet been committed to a specific list of countries.
The letter requests that the United States’ closest neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially extremely vulnerable countries like Haiti and the Bahamas, be among those prioritized for vaccine distribution. Despite only accounting for 8.4 percent of the world’s population, the region has accounted for over 30 percent of the world’s total COVID-19 deaths in May and also has the highest per capita death rate in the world.
“While the US is on track to vaccinate the large majority of Americans, with supply to spare, many of our closest neighbors are not so lucky. The virus continues to spread unchecked at heartbreaking levels and their access to vaccines is woefully inadequate,” said Crist. “Here in Florida we are blessed to have extremely close ties with the Caribbean and Latin America. For many Floridians, it is where they were born, where close friends and family call home, or where they love to travel. I join my colleagues in urging President Biden to distribute life-saving vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean. Doing so is not just in our national interest, it is the right thing to do.”
“As the representative of the largest Haitian-American communities in the United States and the only Bahamian-American member of Congress, my constituents and I are deeply concerned about the spike in COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas and Haiti,” said Wilson. “For more than a year, Haiti experienced a miraculously low level of cases, which I was grateful for given the nation’s problems addressing basic health care issues. Now it is more important than ever to send vaccines to Haiti, where not a single shot has been received, which I pray will help prevent the kind of horrific pandemic that the United States and nations around the globe are finally emerging from.”
Other signers included Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The letter is below:
Dear Mr. President,
We write to encourage you to distribute vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean to address the worsening COVID-19 crisis. As we continue the work of containing the virus in the United States, providing vaccines to our closest neighbors, especially countries hardest hit and with limited public health infrastructure, is in our national strategic interest.
The United States has reached significant milestones in our efforts to contain the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we have administered 286 million individual doses, with 163 million people over 12 years old receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. Even more encouraging is our success vaccinating the most vulnerable, with 74% of people aged 65 and older now fully vaccinated. At the current administration rate of 1.78 million doses per day, we would have 90% of the over 12 population vaccinated by the end of October. In fact, we are now starting to transition our efforts towards encouraging vaccine uptake, with supply in some places outpacing demand.
While we are making progress in our vaccination efforts, we must remain vigilant. There are still the risks posed by strain variants and virus re-emergence, especially since we do not fully know how long vaccines protect us and when we may need boosters in the future. The more places around the world where the virus spreads unchecked, the greater the risk to the American people. We cannot afford to lose any of the progress we have worked so hard to achieve.
To that end, I was encouraged by your administration’s announcement to export 20 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, on top of the 60 million unused AstraZeneca doses previously committed last month. As your administration has not yet announced the detailed list of countries that will receive doses, I encourage you to prioritize our closest neighbors in the Caribbean, as well as vulnerable countries throughout Latin America.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down. So far in May, around 31% of global COVID-19 deaths have been in this part of the world despite accounting for 8.4% of the global population. This amounts to the highest per capita death rate in the world, and recently the region surpassed 1 million total deaths. Three of the five countries with the highest number of new infections are in the Americas and a number of Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas and Haiti, have seen sudden spikes in COVID-19 deaths.
Strong ties exist between many communities and families here in the United States and loved ones in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in our home state of Florida. As we move towards full re-openings across our country, and as Americans plan their travel over the coming months and years, we must take a leadership role in helping our neighbors contain the spread of COVID-19. Providing vaccines to these countries is in our best interest and will make American families safer.
Thank you for your leadership in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic both here at home and around the world.