PAHO wants help for member countries should COVID-19 vaccine become available

Discussions are underway between the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and several regional and global institutions to assist member countries that may require support in accessing approved coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines when these become available.

PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, says among the entities being engaged are the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and the European Union (EU).

Access to vaccines is being facilitated via the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility.

Speaking during PAHO’s recent COVID-19 digital briefing, Dr Etienne said the entity is “actively” collaborating with the IDB to assist regional countries that may need funding support to purchase vaccines through the COVAX Facility.

The facility is designed to accelerate equitable access by countries globally to appropriate, safe and efficacious vaccines.

She also advised that PAHO is collaborating with CARPHA and the EU to provide financial support for down payments required by the COVAX Facility for Caribbean countries, noting that 11 countries will be covered under this agreement.

“This will help to ensure that the Caribbean people, especially the most vulnerable, can benefit from a safe effective vaccine,” she said.

Dr Etienne indicated that PAHO’s Revolving Fund, which has facilitated countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with access to affordable, quality vaccines for more than 40 years, will, along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), be the global vaccine purchase mechanisms for the COVAX Facility.

UNICEF, she further pointed out, will pilot countries outside the region of the Americas.

According to the WHO website, up to today, there were 154 vaccine candidates in the preclinical evaluation phase, 32 in the phase one clinical trial stage, 13 in phase two and 10 in phase three, and five that are being used on a limited basis. None, however, have been approved for wide-scale distribution.

The standard vaccine testing procedures are Phase I: small-scale safety trials — tests on a small number of people for safety, dosage, and efficacy; Phase II: expanded safety trials — tests expanded to hundreds of people; and Phase III: large-scale trials — tests expanded to thousands of people, with some receiving a placebo, to test for safety, dosage, and efficacy as well as side-effects in a larger population.

The procedures also entail approval by some countries for limited use of vaccines without the results of Phase III trials.

Dr Etienne said while the region is “hard at work, preparing for a vaccine”, it is imperative that PAHO member countries, in the meantime, maintain a “strong and steady course” in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Treatment options, unfortunately, remain limited. This means that we must continue to rely on the best strategies available to us. Sound public health measures [such as] testing, treating and isolating cases, as well as tracing contacts, are all part of a good and effective surveillance strategy,” she reiterated.

Dr Etienne again urged individuals to practise the public health measures, “which have proven to be effective”, including frequent hand washing, wearing of masks in public spaces, observing physical distancing protocols, and avoiding congregating in crowds.

The region of the Americas has, to date, recorded more than 18 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and over 610,000 deaths.

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