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PAHO plots path to closing “glaring” vaccine gap by expanding vaccine production in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Photo-credit: Photo © PAHO/WHO

Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2021. 12:53 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has noted that less than four percent of medical products in use during the COVID response have come from the region.

With just three percent of the region’s people fully vaccinate against COVID-19, PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne today called for closing the “glaring gaps” in access to COVID-19 vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean by relying less on imports and more on expanded regional production of medical products including vaccines.

“Expanding our regional capacity to manufacture strategic medical supplies – especially vaccines – is a must, both for our people and as a matter of health security,” she told journalists at her weekly media briefing.

The region has strong academic and research institutions, manufacturing capacity, and regulatory systems, and an effective procurement mechanism. Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico have well-established vaccine manufacturing facilities, some of which are being updated to produce COVID-19 vaccines, she said.

Dr. Etienne added that the region must “embrace the promise of mRNA technologies,” which are the basis of the highly effective Moderna and Pfizer vaccines but could also be used for other vaccines. She said, “PAHO is working closely with the World Health Organization on its COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub.”

PAHO also is in discussion with regional partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, and its Member States to ensure that countries interested in expanding manufacturing have resources and support, she said. Argentina, Chile, and Peru are among those that have already shown interest.

“For this to work,” Dr. Etienne said, “we need scale, a commitment to purchase regionally-made products, and assurance that products will flow freely and without export bans – even during emergencies. Our Revolving Fund stands ready to help purchase and deliver these products throughout our region – as we’ve done for the last 40 years.”

“A regional manufacturing network that builds on our national strengths and that is backed by sustained financial commitments is long overdue,” she continued. “It’s also our best hope for a long-term solution – because COVID will not be the last virus that tests our health systems.”

PAHO has delivered more than 12 million COVAX-procured vaccine doses to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. COVAX is the global alliance for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Another 770,000 doses are on the way to Central American and Caribbean countries, Dr. Etienne said.

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