PAHO To Begin Procuring COVID Vaccines To Expand Access In Region

(CMC) — The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Wednesday said that it will use its revolving fund to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) procure enough vaccines to control transmission.

“The region is still short of the doses needed to turn the tide of the pandemic,” PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne told reporters at a media briefing.

“We need a significant influx of vaccines and a more equitable process for distributing them. With this in mind, PAHO is offering our Member States a new opportunity to access COVID-19 vaccines.”

She said that PAHO’s revolving fund will go “beyond the 20 per cent COVAX offers,” referring to COVAX’s commitment to procure vaccines for 20 per cent of the region’s population, the most at-risk groups.

The revolving fund, which has procured other vaccines for the region at low prices for 42 years, is already receiving requests from countries for COVID-19 vaccines for the last three months of 2021 and for 2022.

“So far, more than 20 countries have formally expressed interest and the number is growing by the day,” Dr Etienne said.

Up until now, the revolving fund has served as one of the COVAX purchasing mechanisms and worked directly with countries requesting support to deliver donations through bilateral agreements. It has deployed over 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Latin American and Caribbean countries procured through COVAX.

“Our region needs to pursue all possible avenues to expedite access and ensure countries reach their vaccination goals. We still need more donations; and we still need COVAX to deliver on its original commitment.

“We also need to create new opportunities that meet the diverse needs of our Member States, and that increase the supply of vaccines to the people and communities at greatest risk,” Dr Etienne said.

She said the revolving fund initiative “will benefit every country in the region, but especially those that lack the resources and negotiating power to secure the doses necessary to protect their people”.

Dr Etienne drew attention to the revolving fund’s pivotal role in the history of strong immunization in Latin America and the Caribbean, where countries have enjoyed high rates of vaccine coverage, “regardless of their income or infrastructure.”

PAHO said that the revolving fund consolidates regional demand so that vaccines can be procured in bulk. It also procures syringes, cold-chain equipment, and other supplies.

“For decades, the revolving fund has been a catalyst of equity and solidarity and has been responsible for protecting generations of children across Latin America and the Caribbean from vaccine-preventable diseases,” Dr Etienne said.

She addressed the pandemic’s continuing toll on the Americas, where more than 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and more than 19,000 deaths were reported over the past week.

Cases and deaths continue to rise in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. In Central America, cases are decreasing in Panama and Costa Rica but increasing in Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador.

In the Caribbean, cases are rising in Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Martinique, the Bahamas, and Dominica.

“Over the past month, infections increased 30-fold in Martinique and there has been a significant spike in hospitalizations,” Dr Etienne said.