PAHO Director calls for equitable access as new vaccines cleared for delivery


With COVAX delivery of new vaccines expected soon in the Americas, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne called for overcoming barriers to ensure “fair and equitable access.”

“As we start delivering COVAX vaccines, and as we prepare for the steep scale-up ahead, we must be guided by our vision of fair and equitable access at every step of the way,” Dr. Etienne said during her weekly press briefing. “We must overcome the structural barriers that prevent the most vulnerable from being immunized and we can only do that by working together.”

On Monday, WHO issued Emergency Use Listing (EUL) for two versions of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines, one from AstraZeneca-SKBio of Korea and the other from the Serum Institute of India.

The approval cleared the way for distribution to the 37 countries in the Americas that are participating in COVAX. The countries will receive confirmation from COVAX regarding the timeline and number of doses within days or weeks, Dr. Etienne said.

“Over the coming days, countries will face important tasks as they prepare for the arrival of vaccine doses,” she said. “Any small delays could set vaccinations back weeks, so countries must make vaccine readiness their number one priority.”

She said there are two vital areas of preparation – the legal and regulatory frameworks required to deliver the vaccines and hiring and training staff needed to conduct mass immunization. “We urge all countries to act quickly, be ready, and save lives,” she said.

For months PAHO has worked to help countries prepare, negotiating directly with manufacturers to streamline agreements and reduce the burden on national governments. PAHO has distributed guidance documents, held training sessions, and provided direct advice to countries. PAHO also has worked with WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank to set up a Vaccine Introduction Readiness Tool – a platform that more than 31 countries are using to assess their preparedness.

“We’re supporting countries on everything from logistics to coordinate the delivery of doses, to public information campaigns to ensure that people know where, when, and how to receive their vaccines,” Dr. Etienne said.

“We are at the start of one of the largest immunization campaigns in our lifetime – an ambitious effort that requires health workers and other sectors to work together,” she continued. “We will have challenges, we will face barriers, we will see new problems. But we will overcome them by working together.”

At least 70% of the population must be vaccinated in order to reach collective immunity.

Turning to the pandemic’s toll on the region, Dr. Etienne reported that cases and deaths have declined in much of the Americas. In the past week, more than 1.2 million people in the Region were infected with COVID-19 and 39,000 died because of the virus.

“While these numbers are staggering, they represent a 10% drop from weeks past – proof that public health interventions are helping us keep the virus at bay,” Dr. Etienne said.

New infections are declining across North America. With the exception of Honduras, every country in Central America is seeing reductions in cases. In South America, most countries are reporting downward trends, though hot spots persist, particularly near the border between Peru, Colombia, and Brazil. Some Caribbean nations, too, are exceptions to declining numbers. The Dominican Republic continues to drive new infections in the region, and smaller islands such as Aruba, Barbados, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are reporting increases in cases.

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  1. Excellent news on WHO approvals. Note Ms. Etienne clearly states EACH COUNTRY must have a Plan, Be Prepared QUICKLY to execute the plan. That includes sufficient (and extra) peripheral supplies, an electronic data-bank with data entry mechanisms that are tested and work (solid wi-fi likely needed for cloud based storage) at each vaccination center, the electronic vaccine self-register to be working without hiccups or crashes from now so we can say YES put me on the list!, Use PAHO supplied PSA’s & other media / education assistance.

    PLEASE let these tasks be delegated to capable experts in their fields and led by the Medical Professionals, with Cabinet providing rapid silent support through approving spending & other government necessary actions.

    We NEED calm, solid, believable communication right now, that has been started admirably by the Head of Medical at MSJMC, Dr. Jason Belizaire. Let’s continue and step away from the seeming need by Sir Health & PM to ‘jab’ at individuals or sectors of society that disagree with their talk & actions, whatever the forum. That diminishes the important work at hand for all our medical & frontline professionals working hard to keep us safe and to care for us.

    Dear Reader, PLEASE stay home if at all possible and limit your visits to built-up areas, mask, 6′ distance, sanitize – we’re in this together and cannot lose anymore healthcare workers because of our laxness.

  2. Make this a priority, humm, so heart attack patients, trauma victims, and cancer patients, you are on your own!!!
    Developing countries do not have the luxury of having all the extra hands needed, so we will win at one end, and lose at the other!!!
    Back to my grave yard shift.

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