As the Atlantic hurricane season officially begins, Mercy Corps warns that hurricanes could disrupt or severely delay the vaccine rollout in Caribbean countries and territories where vaccination campaigns are underway. 9.1 million doses have been administered across 29 countries/territories in the Caribbean, with several countries, including Haiti, yet to begin vaccination efforts.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecast for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season predicts another above-normal season, with 3-5 major hurricanes predicted.
Erynn Carter, Mercy Corps’ Senior Director for Humanitarian Response, explains:
“With vaccines slowly trickling in across the region, a major hurricane would seriously derail the vaccine rollout. The logistics of vaccine delivery are already very complicated. Every step would be that much harder if the power goes out, cell signals are weak, or people can no longer access vaccination sites. And it will be a challenge for people to follow preventative measures like social distancing and hand-washing, especially those who are forced to seek safety in packed shelters.”
A major hurricane could also sabotage the tentative rebounding of tourism in the region, expected by the Caribbean Tourism Organization to increase by 20% in 2021 after declining by 65% in 2020 due to the pandemic. Despite an anticipated economic rebound of 3.7% in 2021, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean projects the region will not recover its pre-pandemic GDP until 2024. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, Mercy Corps provided economic support to help nearly 400 small and medium-sized businesses in Puerto Rico and The Bahamas survive.
Mercy Corps has mounted a humanitarian response to nearly every major hurricane in recent years, including Hurricanes Iota and Eta in Guatemala (2020), Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico (2017), Hurricane Matthew in Haiti (2016) and Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas (2019).