Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, has called on member countries to maintain public health safeguards that have proven to be effective in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19), even while awaiting the development of a vaccine.
She noted that since the onset of the pandemic, countries have put a number of measures in place to contain the spread of the virus, including closing schools and airports, restricting movement, and banning public gatherings.
These are in addition to practising physical distancing, regular handwashing and sanitising, and wearing masks.
Dr. Etienne said that these strategies have helped to flatten the curve, limit mortality and protect health systems.
“We must continue appropriate public health measures that are proven to slow the spread of the virus. At the same time, we must also plan for the arrival of new tools that could transform our response to COVID-19,” she said.
She was addressing PAHO’s COVID-19 digital media briefing on Tuesday (July 14).
Dr. Etienne said that while development of effective medicines and vaccines “are likely many months away,” PAHO, though its Revolving Fund, is actively engaged in negotiations, under the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX).
Facility, to secure the best arrangements for member countries to access adequate supplies once they are available.
The COVAX Facility is designed to accelerate equitable access by countries globally to appropriate, safe and efficacious vaccines.
Dr. Etienne noted that through the PAHO Revolving Fund, member states, for the past 35 years, have been able to pool their resources to purchase high-quality life-saving vaccines at lower costs.
“This [Fund] is unique for the Americas, which is the only region with a shared mechanism for purchasing and delivering vaccines. More than 41 countries and territories across our region have used this mechanism to purchase vaccines for their national immunisation programmes,” she noted.
Additionally, the PAHO Director said the Fund has enabled the vaccination of generations of children, “helping us to become the first global region to eliminate polio, and the only region to have eliminated measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
“Today, we have some of the highest immunisation rates around the world and have facilitated the swift introduction of new vaccines. This is remarkable, especially considering the diversity and inequities that persist in the Americas,” she noted.
Dr. Etienne said PAHO remains committed to working with member states to establish the best immunisation strategies and strengthen and adapt the systems that may be required to deliver COVID-19 vaccines.
“Together, we will focus on protecting those most at risk – health workers, the elderly and people with comorbidities,” she noted.