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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says nearly all member countries have expressed an interest in joining the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility.

This, Dr. Etienne notes, is expected to go a far way in ensuring equitable and affordable access by these states to coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines through a collaboration with PAHO’s Revolving Fund, when these become available.

The COVAX Facility is designed to accelerate equitable access by countries globally to appropriate, safe and efficacious vaccines.

Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Tuesday (August 18), Dr. Etienne said the immediate objective of arrangements with the COVAX Facility “is to have agreements with vaccine producers to secure around two billion doses until the end of 2021”.

This, she noted, will allow each country to access a volume of vaccines to inoculate at least 20 per cent of their population.

“They would use those to vaccinate health and social workers, adults over 65 years of age, and other adults with chronic conditions, who are the most vulnerable groups to develop the severe form of COVID-19,” Dr. Etienne further stated.

She reiterated that all vaccines available through the Facility/Revolving Fund will be prequalified by WHO to ensure that they are safe and effective.

“Equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19 is key to ensuring that we will be able to protect all vulnerable groups in every country, rich or poor, and save millions of lives,” the Director said.

“We have encouraged our member states to join the COVAX Facility… to allow low- and middle-income countries to have early access to the vaccines. This is the first priority when the vaccines are available,” she added.

Dr. Etienne said based on economic criteria, 10 regional countries are eligible to receive financial support from the COVAX Facility to access the vaccine via donation.

These are Bolivia, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The PAHO Director informed that in the case of the other countries, the Facility will reduce the “risks” posed by bilateral agreements with specific companies, “because we will have a basket that already has more than 10 manufacturers that are engaged in the [vaccine development] process”.

Dr. Etienne said PAHO is “extremely excited” by the speed and diversity of the vaccination development process thus far.

“It really is exciting to see a pipeline of over 150 vaccines that are in different stages of development… [with] eight of them already in phase three of clinical trials,” she noted.

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