All Caribbean countries to get COVID-19 vaccines by early April

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (CMC) — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne said Tuesday that by early next month all Caribbean countries will have received their first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX Facility.

In fact, some of them could get theirs by the end of this week.

At the same time, the PAHO director warned that COVID-19 is surging dangerously in many countries in the region.

As the recognised procurement agent for COVAX in Latin America and the Caribbean, PAHO’s Revolving Fund negotiates, purchases, and handles shipment logistics on behalf of the 36 countries participating in COVAX – the global alliance to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine – which has helped deliver more than 2.2 million doses to the region so far, and more doses are expected to arrive this week in Suriname and Belize.

Responding to questions in her weekly media briefing about when countries will get their initial vaccine shipments, Dr Etienne said: “PAHO is doing all that it can to accelerate access to vaccines in our region. Following PAHO’s negotiations with the COVAX partners, we have ensured that 21 countries in the Americas will receive their first deployment of vaccines by the end of this week. And in early April, all countries in our region will be able to receive their first deployment of vaccines.”

Although adding that was “good news”, the top PAHO official said vaccine supplies are limited and the amounts deployed represented, in many and most cases, a small percentage of the countries’ populations.

“So, despite some progress, our region has been and remains the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many countries reporting high mortality. We all know that vaccines are our way out of the pandemic, but only if we have more equitable access to vaccines to cover more than 70 per cent of our adult population,” she said, adding that countries of the region must work together to explore different mechanisms to expand the pool of available vaccines.

“If the supply is limited and if rich countries are buying it up, then that limits our possibility of getting adequate vaccines. PAHO will continue to play a coordination role…but we need to count on the solidarity of our member states. We must explore all options together, she said.

“We need to seek donations by countries who will have surplus vaccines. We need to be able to share vaccines through loans, and this is not new in the region of the Americas. We need to work together to expand manufacturing capacity in the region and we need to continue to work with manufacturers to supply vaccines at prices that will enable equitable distribution within and among countries,” Dr Etienne added.

She said that given this unprecedented health crisis, “we need to put our best minds and hearts together so we can expand supply and coverage for all countries and, thus, ensure that those who need the vaccine are able to access it”.

Dr Etienne warned that the virus is not receding, neither is the pandemic starting to go away.

In the past week, more than 1.2 million people were infected with the novel coronavirus in the Americas, more than during the previous week, while 31,272 people died of the virus.

The pandemic is particularly dire in South America, where infection is reported to be spiking in Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

In the Caribbean, cases are increasing in Cuba, Aruba, Curacao, and Antigua and Barbuda. In Jamaica, cases have risen steadily for several weeks.

“As the virus surges and hospitalisations rise. We urgently need to scale up vaccination among our most vulnerable populations,” the PAHO director said.

Meantime, she urged people of the region to continue to respect and adhere to public health measures – masks, hand washing, and social distancing – especially during the upcoming Easter holidays.

“People cannot let down their guard by engaging in close contact with others… We do not yet have the vaccines we need to protect everyone,” Dr Etienne cautioned.

Over 155.8 million doses of the vaccine, including the COVAX deliveries, have been rolled out in the Americas, and in the Caribbean and Latin America, immunisation campaigns are underway in 33 of the 35 countries that are members of PAHO. PAHO is assisting the two countries, Haiti and Cuba, that have yet to start immunisation.

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