In Subcommittee Hearing, Congressman Sires Calls on Biden Administration to Provide Excess Vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean
(Washington, D.C.) –Today, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), Chairman of the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy, delivered the following opening remarks at the Congressional hearing he convened entitled “A Race Against Time: Deploying Vaccines and Addressing the Disproportionate Impacts of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean”:
“I have dedicated much of my fifteen years in Congress to deepening the United States’ engagement in the Western Hemisphere, so it has been deeply painful to see the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean. This region has less than ten percent of the world’s population but has accounted for almost thirty percent of the world’s deaths. An estimated twenty-two million people in this region were pushed back into poverty last year, effectively eroding many of the region’s gains in economic development over the last two decades. The pandemic’s impacts have been especially severe for women in the region, who have been 44% more likely than men to lose their jobs. The pandemic has also created nightmare scenarios for many women, who have been forced to shelter with their abusers. In Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia, calls to domestic violence hotlines have skyrocketed. As we think about the lessons we should learn from this pandemic, I believe one of them is that the epidemic of domestic violence must be addressed with the urgency it deserves. The U.S. Government should incorporate efforts to combat and prosecute domestic violence into our foreign assistance programming throughout the region.
We have also seen how this pandemic is undermining democratic governance, reducing citizens’ trust in government, and leading to greater political instability. The current situation in Colombia, the United States’ strongest ally in Latin America, provides a grim foreshadowing of the kinds of unrest we may see throughout the region if we cannot work quickly and effectively to get this pandemic under control.
Last Congress, we held two hearings to examine the impact of the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean and the U.S. Government’s response. In July 2020, when we hosted the Acting Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Kozak, we discussed with him the urgent need in the region for more personal protective equipment and masks.
Today, that urgent need is vaccines. I ask President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their administration to answer the call. The U.S. is expected to have over four hundred million excess vaccines, even if we vaccinate every adult in the U.S. In New Jersey, more than 7.7 million doses have been administered already and I am working hard to ensure everyone in my district can easily get access to a vaccine.
But the truth is that none of us will be fully safe from this virus until we all are. Time is of the essence and we cannot afford any further delay. The P-1 and other variants are making it even more difficult to contain the virus. That is why I have joined with many colleagues including Congressman Castro and Chairman Meeks in calling for Latin America and the Caribbean to be prioritized for vaccine distribution. The Caribbean in particular cannot be forgotten. I am glad we have started to send some vaccines to Mexico, but our neighbors in the Caribbean and in Central America should also be at the top of the list.
In the coming months, we must go beyond shipping excess vaccines or working with countries to pay for them to also supporting vaccine distribution and delivery. It should be U.S. policy to promote vaccine equity and ensure that indigenous groups, women, and people of African descent, who have been hit especially hard by the virus, are prioritized in vaccination outreach efforts. Looking ahead, we should be assessing how we can leverage the United States’ expertise in the private sector and in our government-funded research institutions to help strengthen health systems throughout the region.
My hope is that in the wake of the pandemic, the United States’ bonds with this region will emerge stronger than ever before. I look forward to working with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to advance that goal.”