PAHO urges region to mobilise production of COVID-19 vaccines

DIRECTOR of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne has urged the region to mobilise the production of COVID-19 vaccines as anxieties increase over vaccine nationalism, which is being blamed for a shortage of doses to the region.

“We in this region will have to mobilise our production facilities and modernise the vaccine platform in the countries of the Americas. Because of the global limitations for manufacturing vaccines, it has been difficult for our region to gain access to the vaccines that we need to immunise our populations. We see the unrest and the anxiety in many of our countries because of this,” the director stressed, responding to questions yesterday at PAHO’s weekly virtual press update on the COVID-19 crisis in the region.She said PAHO is working with partners in the inter-American system to advance this process. “We need to find ways to share vaccines more equitably in the region, whether it’s through donations of surplus doses, ramping up production, or increased procurement or other avenues. Current progress is far from reaching the coverage that is necessary to protect the most vulnerable groups, and to reduce the high mortality in our region,” she stated.Dr Etienne stressed that countries in the region are even further away from reaching coverage that is needed to achieve herd immunity of 70 to 80 per cent of their populations.The PAHO director said while it will take time to make and distribute adequate doses to countries through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) mechanism, the facility is still an important approach to resolve some of the inequities in distribution now facing the region. “This is important for the Americas where poor indigenous communities and many people in rural and remote locations with limited care have been especially at risk,” she said.Dr Etienne pointed out that nearly a quarter of the population of the region is at risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms due to underlying conditions, while women continue to bear the brunt of the burden from the social and economic fallout, and approximately 140 million children remain out of school. “So, while we have all been affected by this pandemic, we have not been impacted equally,” she remarked.PAHO said more than 210 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in 49 countries across the Americas, more than half of them only first doses of two-shot vaccines.Meanwhile, with the opening of two new sites in Europe for the Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine, more supplies are expected for the region of the Americas once emergency use listing (EUL) is approved.

Dr Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO’s assistant director, said EUL could be approved as early as next week. He said limited doses are also expected from Pfizer beginning in June, and Johnson and Johnson should start shipping supplies by July. Last week there were 1.3 million new cases of COVID-19 in the region of the Americas and more than 37,000 deaths, accounting for more than half of all global deaths reported for the period. PAHO said that while in the Caribbean, populous islands like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are seeing a dip in cases, infections are increasing in smaller islands such as Martinique, and Bermuda.

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