by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) – More than a third of countries in the Americas have yet to vaccinate at least 20 percent of their populations, that is according to Dr Carissa Etienne, Director of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), during the organisation’s latest Press Briefing on COVID19.
The Director reported that in North America, infection rates in young people and adults below the age of 50 are higher now than at any other point during the pandemic.
Dr Etienne said that the region needs about 540 million more doses to cover at least 60 percent of people in countries with low vaccination rates.
She gave this report on the state of the region as it relates to infection rates.
“In the Caribbean, St Lucia and Puerto Rico are reporting high rates of new infections, and Jamaica is seeing its highest ever COVID deaths as its hospitals reach full capacity. Outbreaks are also accelerating in multiple Central American countries, especially Costa Rica and Belize. In South America, infections are generally declining, with a few exceptions. In Venezuela, cases are plateauing, and in Suriname, transmission has increased for four consecutive weeks.”
The organisation is again pushing the need for access to vaccines and for vaccination rates in countries to be increased as the way out of this pandemic. Dr Etienne outlined priorities to accelerate vaccine coverage in the region.
“First, we need more vaccine donations, and we urge countries around the world with excess doses to quickly share this with our region, where they will have [a life-saving impact]. As we continue to face delays in vaccine production, donations remain the best and the fastest way to get vaccines out to more people. Today, some countries are already rolling out boosters to vaccinated persons, even as most people in our region have yet to receive a single dose.
We remind countries everywhere that the best way to protect against variants of concern, like the Delta variant, is to ensure that more people are fully vaccinated everywhere. Our best option is to make the most of available doses right now. So, this brings me to my second point. We need to let public health and not politics guide our pandemic response. As vaccines remain limited, countries should prioritise doses for the most vulnerable, like the elderly, health workers, and those living with pre-existing conditions. Too many of these vulnerable groups have yet to be vaccinated, even as vaccination campaigns are reaching others who are less at risk. So we continue to go to countries to follow the science, both by designing campaigns that protect the most vulnerable and by applying public health measures that can bring down transmission.
And finally, we need countries to ensure that vaccines are in arms as soon as they arrive. While countries are administering doses quickly, this is just the beginning. As they receive more and larger shipments, countries must ensure the logistics systems can absorb those losses and that the cold chain is assured all along the way. It also means hiring and training more health workers to deliver these vaccines and organising communication campaigns, so people have all the information that they need so they know when and where to get vaccinated.”
To help secure more vaccines, PAHO launched an initiative to do just that last week.
“We’re also thinking ahead and making plans to significantly improve regional vaccine manufacturing capacity. So just last week, we launched a new platform that convinced partners around a shared vision of boosting ‘state of the art’ vaccine production in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Americas have a successful legacy of immunisation grounded on cooperation. We must embrace this as our way out of the pandemic.”
The regional platform is still in its initial stages in reviewing proposals and next steps in making regional manufacturing of health goods a reality.
“The first concrete initiative under this platform is to facilitate the tech transfer process to ensure the regional ability to [manufacture] mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. So thus far, we have received some 32 proposals from private and public companies that want to participate in this crucial endeavour. These proposals are now being analysed as the results will be announced by the end of September.”
Dr Etienne wanted to clarify that this is not a short term response or plan towards combating COVID-19 but a long term plan and process to help the shortages in regional health capacities and lessen the dependency on larger, wealthier countries for medical supplies and vaccines.
“During this pandemic, it became evident how dependent we are on important medical supplies, which can cause shortages and jeopardise the response from the countries. We need to change the situation to be better prepared to respond to future emergencies and to increase the accessibility of health systems. PAHO also wants to have all the medical products that can be produced, under the Regional Platform Initiative, to be genuine regions public health goods using the Strategic Fund for medicines and the revolving fund for vaccines to benefit all the countries of Latin America.”