(CMC) — The director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne, Wednesday announced that the organisation is in the process of ramping up the procumbent of vaccines to treat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
She told the weekly PAHO news conference that the UN health agency has entered into an agreement with Sinovac and is in advanced discussions with other manufacturers to purchase additional COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of countries to complement bilateral deals, donations and doses received via the international COVAX mechanism.
“We have reached an agreement with Sinovac and have begun accepting orders that will be ready for delivery this year, and we are expecting to sign new agreements in the coming days to buy vaccines that have Emergency Use Listing approval from other suppliers for 2021 and 2022,” she told reporters.
The Dominican-born senior official said that PAHO has so far helped COVAX deliver 50 million doses, including nearly 14 million donated doses.
“We have the capacity to quickly scale this support, so we urge countries not to delay their donations as lives hang in the balance today.”
COVAX is an international mechanism co-led by the WHO, the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations CEPI, and UNICEF to make COVID-19 vaccine distribution more equitable.
Dr Etienne also called for expanding manufacturing capacity in the region “to build a more sustainable and dependable supply of vaccines and medical technologies”.
She highlighted advances in a PAHO-led platform to accelerate the development and production of mRNA vaccines.
Last week, the organisation announced the selection of two centres in Argentina and Brazil to develop COVID-19 vaccines using the same technology used by Pfizer and Moderna.
“This is a strategic initiative because mRNA technology can also be used to develop other virus vaccines for relevant public health problems in our region such as Zika, Dengue fever and others,” she said.
“PAHO is also inviting public and private pharmaceutical manufacturers that can develop and produce essential components for mRNA vaccines to become a part of its regional platform,” Dr Etienne added.
She noted that more than a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Americas since they became available in 2021, but only 35 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.
Although Canada, Chile, Uruguay, and Puerto Rico have fully vaccinated over 70 per cent of their populations, 10 countries and territories in the region have yet to reach 20 per cent.
These include Nicaragua, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guatemala, Venezuela, St Lucia, Bahamas, Honduras, and Grenada. In Haiti, less than one per cent of the population have been protected thus far, Dr Etienne said.
She said that the Americas last week reported nearly 1.5 million new COVID infections and more than 26,000 COVID related deaths, more than any other region.
In North America, Canada is witnessing a rise in COVID infections and deaths. In the USA cases have been declining during the last week; however, deaths have been increasing. During the same period Mexico has reported a decrease in transmission, she said.
Most small islands of the Caribbean are experiencing increases in cases, with hospitals in St Lucia reporting staff and oxygen shortages as hospitalisations continue to rise. In many countries and territories, “burnout among health care workers remains a concern as hospitals are overburdened with COVID patients,” Dr Etienne said.