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Pan American Health Organization: Get ready for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2021. 1:09 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Ahead of plans to roll out vaccines for COVID-19 toward the end of the first quarter or early second quarter of this year, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) encouraged its members to reach out and share what they need for a successful rollout.

More than 30 countries in the Americas, including Belize, are set to receive vaccines through the COVAX facility in March or April. Belize’s allocated quota is some 100,800 doses, with the country actively procuring more from other sources.

The Vaccine Introduction Readiness Tool (VIRAT), an online platform maintained by PAHO/World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Bank, as of February 8 has recorded information from 30 countries: 21 shared vaccination plans and 20 reviews of cold chain equipment and procedures.

Key areas for a successful vaccine roll out include the development of national vaccination plans, establishment of expedited regulatory processes, preparation of health workers, and strengthening of cold chain capacity. The VIRAT platform assesses country readiness for COVID-19 roll out in 10 areas: Planning and coordination; Budgeting; Regulatory; Prioritization, Targeting, and COVID-19 Surveillance; Service Delivery; Training and Supervision; Monitoring and Evaluation; Vaccine, Cold Chain, Logistics, and Infrastructure; Safety Surveillance; and Demand Generation and Communication.

PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne has promised continued support for the vaccine rollout matching the “tremendous efforts” of members and added, “We will reach the end of the tunnel, but only if we go together. COVID-19 will not be defeated until everyone is safe. Our public health response to the disease must therefore leave no country or no one behind.”

PAHO Assistant Director, Jarbas Barbosa, encouraged ministers of health to regularly provide updates about their readiness to VIRAT, since it identifies technical cooperation needs. 

It is important to involve the national regulatory authorities in the process to assess the national capacities in key aspects such as authorization and importation procedures, assessment of cold chain capacities, and investigation of Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI), advised Barbosa. A recent survey showed that 43 percent of the national regulatory authorities in the Region of the Americas were not aware of the VIRAT platform.

The COVAX Facility, the global mechanism to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines regardless of countries’ incomes, estimates it will provide 35.3 million doses to the countries of the Americas between February and the second quarter of 2021.


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