(PAHO) – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has launched a new platform aimed at easing the severe shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean by producing them within the region.
During a recent virtual meeting, PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne announced the launch of the Regional Platform to Advance the Manufacturing of COVID-19 Vaccines and other Health Technologies in the Americas.” She described it as an initiative that will “coordinate across sectors – health, science and technology and industry – to strengthen their capacity to produce new technologies.”
Explaining the need for the platform, Dr. Etienne said, “limited (global) production and unequal distribution of vaccines in the face of staggering demand hinder our COVID response. Mass vaccination is critical if we are to stem the tide of this pandemic and hinder the spread of further variants.”
So far, only about 23% of people in the region have been fully vaccinated, and in many countries, coverage is much lower.
The platform will support collaboration across countries and cooperation agencies, applying existing regional biomanufacturing capacity to production of COVID-19 vaccines as well as other medical technologies. The principle is that manufacture should benefit the entire region, with regional pharmaceutical production and distribution of the vaccines by PAHO’s Revolving Fund to all countries.
During the recent virtual meeting, Dr. Etienne extended an invitation to public and private manufacturers, asking them to submit expressions of interest in producing the reagents or starting materials for production of an mRNA vaccine, the technology used in highly effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Other speakers at the meeting – which included leaders of international financial institutions, governments, and public health agencies – raised numerous aspects of regional medical technologies production.
Costa Rican Minister of Health Daniel Salas Peraza stressed urgency, saying “This pandemic is something that can recur in the future. It can be repeated. We need to build the necessary platforms now that will allow us to pull through in a more fast and effective manner.”
Anabel González, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) highlighted the contribution that regional production of vaccines could make. “Without urgent action to boost the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, the world will not be able to bring the pandemic under control. She said that “regional diversification of production” could play an important role in increasing supply.
Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), drew attention to three areas necessary to increase regional vaccine manufacturing – secure capital investment, technology transfer and bolstering of regulatory capacity.
William Savedoff, Principal Health Specialist – Social Protection and Health Division
of the Inter-American Development Bank, emphasized the importance of regional cooperation that includes defining clear goals, “equitable distribution of obligations and benefits,” incentives that discourage “go-it-alone strategies,” and strong leadership from countries. “The IDB is completely, 100% behind these regional efforts,” he said.
Wrapping up the session, Dr. Etienne focused on the need to “build the infrastructure and technical capacity to break the cycle of dependency on a highly concentrated global vaccine market” as well as “concrete initiatives” to bring mRNA technology to Latin America and the Caribbean.
“But most of all, we have noted the need for coordination, collaboration, investment, and solidarity. We believe [they] will be the essential ingredients for the development and production of new medical technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The invitation and launch follow an earlier invitation to public and private manufacturers interested in the transfer of mRNA technology into Latin America and the Caribbean, which is being facilitated by both PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO). In response to the invitation for interest, 30 proposals were submitted. PAHO is amid the process of reviewing them, and decisions are expected in September.
Other participants at the meeting included Andrés Couve, Chile’s Minister of Science, Technology, Knowledge, and Innovation; María Apólito, Argentina’s Undersecretary for the Knowledge Economy; Nísia Trindade Lima, President of Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation; Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist for WHO; and Alberto Arenas, Chief of the Social Development Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.