Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says coronavirus (COVID-19) safeguards will remain pivotal to curtailing the spread of the disease, even after an approved vaccine has been identified.
Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Wednesday (September 23), Dr. Etienne noted that nearly 200 vaccine candidates are currently being studied, from which “we hope that one or more of these will prove to be effective”.
The Director emphasised that “we cannot pin our hopes on vaccines alone”.
“It may take some time before [many] people are vaccinated,” she said, adding that “this virus will continue to spread and people will continue to get sick,” unless strict adherence to health protocols and safeguards is maintained.
“We will continue to rely on… measures like testing, contact tracing and quarantine to minimise the spread of this virus; and we will continue to count on people exercising [physical] distancing, washing their hands often, and wearing masks in public to protect others from getting sick. We will still need diagnostics to identify those who are sick, and treatments to care for those who fall ill,” the PAHO Director further noted.
Dr. Etienne said it is also imperative that countries’ vaccination strategies are designed to minimise strain on clinics and hospitals, without sacrificing convenience and access for all users.
“To ensure vaccination sites aren’t overwhelmed, they must have adequate staff, resources and equipment in place.
Scheduling will also be important to control foot traffic and maintain [physical] distancing. Immunisation programmes will [also] have to be adjusted, so they meet the demands of a COVID-19 vaccine,” she added.
Dr. Etienne urged PAHO member countries and other nations globally to ensure that in preparation for a COVID-19 vaccine, they “remain realistic, knowing that these preparations do not replace everything else that we must do to save lives”.
The region of the Americas has, to date, recorded more than 15.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 530,000 deaths.