Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the entity is actively involved in negotiations to secure the best arrangements for regional member countries to access adequate supplies of a vaccine for the coronavirus (COVID-19), when one is developed.
This is being done under the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility.
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 media briefing on Tuesday (July 14), Dr. Etienne said there are currently more than 150 COVID-19 vaccine candidates at various stages of development, of which more than 20 are already being tested on volunteers in a number of countries across the Americas, such as the United States of America (USA), Canada and Argentina.
However, the PAHO Director emphasised the need for more countries from Latin America and the Caribbean to get involved in the clinical trials, “so [that] we can participate in this global effort to accelerate the development of vaccines that are safe and effective for everyone”.
Dr. Etienne pointed out that the last several months have ushered “unprecedented collaboration” among scientists, governments and global partners to develop coronavirus treatments and vaccines in record time.
She cautioned that countries should only participate in clinical trials if these are appropriately conducted, with the adoption of proper regulatory, technical and ethical measures.
Against this background, Dr. Etienne said PAHO is actively engaged with member states and their national regulatory authorities to provide technical cooperation on all important matters regarding COVID-19 clinical trials.
Additionally, she said PAHO has, in the spirit of regional cooperation, been supporting Latin American and Caribbean countries to join the “landmark” collaboration to accelerate the development, production and distribution of future COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Etienne said countries from both subregions are being encouraged to join the COVAX Facility via PAHO’s Revolving Fund, which, for the past 35 years, has seen member states and territories pool their resources to purchase high-quality life-saving vaccines at lower costs.
She pointed out that both facilities are grounded in similar principles of shared resources and equitable access at affordable prices.
“The COVAX Facility is the best option to guarantee equitable access through fair allocation across all countries, and to reduce the risk of having no supply if a specific vaccine candidate fails,” Dr. Etienne said.
She argued that, as a bloc, PAHO member states “will benefit from our technical expertise as well as our decades of experience, securing and distributing vaccines quickly and efficiently”.
Additionally, Dr. Etienne said PAHO is coordinating with other partners “to guarantee that the most vulnerable countries in our region receive the vaccine against COVID-19 in a subsidised manner and at an affordable price”.
Noting that 30 states have already joined the Facility via PAHO’s Revolving Fund, Dr. Etienne said the regional entity is “excited to see more expressions of interest from our member countries”, adding that “the more countries that join, the stronger we will be”.
She contended that COVID-19 has, in a few short months, “redefined [and] transformed our way of life, our region and our economies”.
Consequently, Dr. Etienne emphasised the need for regional stakeholders to “look ahead to plan how we will select, manufacture, pay for, and distribute a vaccine.”