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COVID-19 vaccine procurement to ramp up, PAHO Director asserts

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Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2021. 12:47 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: In her weekly press briefing, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne outlined plans and strategies to ramp up procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for the hemisphere.

She announced that PAHO has agreed with Sinovac, makers of the Sinopharm vaccine, and is in “advanced discussions” with other manufacturers to purchase additional COVID-19 vaccines to complement stock from bilateral deals, donations, and COVAX donations.

COVAX, the international mechanism co-led by WHO, the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations CEPI, and UNICEF to make COVID-19 vaccine distribution more equitable, has so far delivered 50 million doses including nearly 14 million donated doses but has run into production delays.

Dr. Etienne also called for expanding manufacturing capacity in the region “to build a more sustainable and dependable supply of vaccines and medical technologies.” She highlighted advances in a PAHO-led platform to accelerate the development and production of mRNA vaccines. Last week, the organization announced the selection of two centers in Argentina and Brazil to develop COVID-19 vaccines using the same technology used by Pfizer and Moderna.

“This is a strategic initiative because mRNA technology can also be used to develop other virus vaccines for relevant public health problems in our Region such as Zika, Dengue fever, and others,” she said.

PAHO is also inviting public and private pharmaceutical manufacturers that can develop and produce essential components for mRNA vaccines to become a part of its regional platform,” Dr. Etienne added.

She noted that more than a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Americas since they became available in 2021, but only 35 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.

Although Canada, Chile, Uruguay, and Puerto Rico have fully vaccinated over 70 percent of their populations, ten countries and territories in the region have yet to reach 20 percent of their populations. These include Nicaragua, Jamaica, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Guatemala, Venezuela, St. Lucia, Bahamas, Honduras, and Grenada. In Haiti, fewer than 1 percent of people have been protected thus far, Dr. Etienne said.

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