BELMOPAN, Wed. Apr. 28, 2020– Among the various topics that were debated in Wednesday’s Senate meeting was a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) of US$5 million for the purchase of 238,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. The government has said that this loan is necessary to further the fight against the virus in Belize.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, however, asked whether or not the GOB has exercised all possible options, such as grants and other avenues, to obtain vaccines for free. Other senators, such as the senator representing the NGO’s, Hon. Osmany Salas, and Hon. Bishop Alvin Benguche both said that they would like that same question to be addressed — so that the country avoids any additional expense or any unnecessary debt. All three senators conceded, however, that if there is a need to borrow from the IDB to facilitate the vaccinations, then they were not opposed.
The senators also emphasized that the GOB’s attentions should not only be placed on the purchase of vaccines but also on educating and encouraging the nation to get vaccinated. Further, Senator Sheena Pitts raised the issue of mandatory vaccinations, given the great expense the taxpayers of Belize would be shouldering to secure the vaccines, which may not even be utilized.
The Leader of Government Business, Hon. Eamon Courtenay, then rose to address the concerns raised and questions posed by his fellow senators. His remarks were as follows:
“We have, through the cooperation of partners, including the United Kingdom, the United Nations, been able to fund with counterpart funding from the Government of Belize, an education campaign in the fight against the spread of COVID. And, Madam President and Senators, the campaign that will be designed under this loan motion is not only to discourage the spread or to assist in the fight against the spread, but also, in the encouragement of taking the vaccine and educating people about the risks and encouraging them to take the vaccines.”
Regarding the practice of “vaccine nationalism,” Hon. Courtenay says that the representatives of Belize have gone on record to condemn the excess accumulation of vaccines by countries who could afford to donate them to other nations. Courtenay also made mention of the current government’s efforts to solicit vaccines from various nations. According to Senator Courtenay, nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Cuba and Taiwan (the latter two having engineered their own vaccines) have pledged donations of thousands of doses of their vaccines pending certification that they are safe for use. Courtenay then took the opportunity to address Hon. Michael Peyrefitte directly:
“Senator Peyrefitte is over there saying ‘why are we borrowing the five million for?’ We are borrowing five million because your government did not borrow the five million when the Belizeans were suffering from COVID, Senator Peyrefitte. We are borrowing the five million, Madam President, because one jab or two jabs does not mean that you cannot get COVID again. That does not mean that we get rid of COVID. This is something that is going to be with us for some time to come, and we have to put ourselves in a position of preparedness to secure the health of the Belizean people.”