Countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are to join forces to ensure equal access to medicines and vaccines for COVID-19, the hemisphere’s top health official announced on Tuesday.
The Director of the Pan American Health Organization Dr Carissa F. Etienne said PAHO member states, acting as a bloc, are to receive the health agency’s expertise and experience to secure and distribute vaccines “quickly and efficiently” when they are developed.
She promised the process will be as inclusive as possible “by allocating doses fairly among those countries participating.”
A PAHO Revolving Fund for vaccines is to be used as a strategic asset to buy and distribute vaccines, Dr Etienne said. Some 20 of the 150 current vaccine candidates are already being tested on volunteers, she added.
PAHO is also involved in the WHO COVAX facility, a group effort to negotiate with vaccine producers. Countries in the Americas are also collaborating to speed up the development, production and distribution of future COVID-19 vaccines. Under WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, the COVAX Facility will negotiate with the producers of all promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Said the hemispheric health czar: “We already have 30 countries and territories joining the facility through PAHO’s Revolving Fund, and we are excited to see more expressions of interest from our Member States in the coming days. The more countries that join, the stronger we will be.”
“This will enable countries – regardless of income level – to secure better prices and assume less risk than if they negotiate individually. No country should do this alone—especially since we improve our chances of success and reduce competition if we work together.”
PAHO is also coordinating with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and “other partners to guarantee that the most vulnerable countries in our region receive the vaccine against COVID 19 subsidized and at an affordable price”, said Dr Etienne.
For the last 35 years, the PAHO Revolving Fund has pooled the resources of 41 countries to buy high-quality vaccines for national immunization programmes at lower prices. The fund has been credited with helping to eliminate polio, measles, mumps and rubella from the Americas, she said.
In her latest update on the COVID-19 situation in the Americas, Dr Etienne said: “As of July 13, we have reached 6.8 million cases and 288,000 deaths across the region of the Americas. This equates to roughly half of all cases and deaths reported around the world. In the past week, our region has reported 60 per cent of all new cases and 64 per cent of all new deaths in the world.”
The past week has broken records as regional hotspots like the United States reported their highest-ever daily case counts and record deaths in several states.
Dr Etienne said: “The number of people dying of COVID-19 is also climbing, particularly in Brazil, Mexico and the United States, reporting 77 per cent of all the deaths over the last week and currently experiencing some of the deadliest outbreaks in the world.
“This virus has redefined how we perceive time. In a few short months, it has transformed our way of life, our region and our economies. We must look ahead to plan how we will select, manufacture, pay for and distribute a vaccine. We need to improve our regulatory capacities on immunization, build vaccine post-marketing surveillance, boost vaccination programs, and improve or adapt our cold chain facilities.”
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