(CNC 3) – While inaccurate reports of President Paula-Mae Weekes getting a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine as a booster stirred a debate on social media, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says there is not yet enough evidence to suggest that people should get booster shots. In fact, experts are currently studying the vaccine, conducting clinical trials and collecting data to determine whether they should recommend a third dose or booster for added protection against COVID-19 variants.
During Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing on the Americas, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne said it was essential to have the data analysed to allow them to make the proper recommendations. She said recommendations might differ depending on vaccine types and specific groups, such as immunocompromised people, the elderly and the general population.
“Let us stress that the important fact here is to highlight that the best protection against the new Variants of Concern is to control transmission everywhere. And so for this reason, the urgent need to have equitable access to vaccines is an ethical imperative, and it is the best public health response to the spread. You know our countries urgently need COVID-19 vaccines,” Etienne said.
According to PAHO’s data, less than 25 per cent of people in the Caribbean and Latin America are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In some countries, it is less than five per cent inoculated and some are unable to offer the second dose of the vaccine.
With many countries and territories eyeing the reopening of schools in September, PAHO also recommends that governments do this using a phased approach. Etienne said authorities should consider a country’s epidemiological situation. Acknowledging that his can change rapidly, she said surveillance would be key in ensuring that reopening is safe and that learning environments remain healthy.
“Prior to reopening, countries must ensure that schools can maintain COVID-19 prevention and its control measures, such as social distancing, hand hygiene, mask-wearing and the safe and accessible transportation to and from school is also an important consideration.”
PAHO has developed guidance for school reopening and Etienne said they are working with member states to achieve this as safely as possible. She said the safest way to reopen schools rest on a country’s ability to suppress transmission through vaccination and the implementation of public health measures.
“This is the only way we protect children, teachers, parents and the community.”
With the Caribbean and Latin America continuing to suffer from a severe shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, PAHO will launch a platform to boost regional vaccine manufacturing efforts. It will begin with the first in a series of meetings to promote greater coordination across countries and enlist partners from the public and private sectors. Etienne said limited production and unequal distribution of vaccines compromise the region’s pandemic response and put public health at very high risk. She said reliance on imports makes the Caribbean and Latin America more vulnerable.
Tomorrow (August 27), leaders from global financial institutions, governments and public health agencies will meet to discuss the platform, which will foster research and incentivise the development and manufacture of health technologies. PAHO is also working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners to bring the highly effective mRNA vaccine technology into the region. So far, over 30 public and private companies and institutions have expressed the desire to take part in the technology transfer and PAHO is in the “process of identifying the most promising proposals,” she said