Director General of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne, has welcomed the rapid development of vaccines to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“The fact that we have vaccines registered and that several more are in late stage development… and that this has happened in less than a year… really is totally unprecedented and truly a historic feat,” she noted.
Dr. Etienne was speaking recently during PAHO’s final COVID-19 digital briefing for 2020.
Two vaccines, developed by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna, have so far been approved for emergency use by several countries, including the United States and (US) and United Kingdom (UK).
Dr. Etienne said development of these first generation vaccines within a short time frame was the result of “great ingenuity”, and indicative of “robust” investment as well as global collaboration.
“What is clear is that without adequate resources and the effective engagement of the world’s best scientific minds, it really would not have been possible,” she noted.
The PAHO Director said equally imperative is the need for regional countries to adopt a similar all-hands-on-deck approach to access vaccines and other COVID-19 medical interventions, and initiate “unprecedented” investments in this regard.
Dr. Etienne maintained that this is particularly important now, as PAHO member countries prepare for full-scale vaccine roll-out.
She noted, however, that while securing a registered vaccine is important, it is just the first step in controlling the pandemic.
“We need to take into consideration that it is going to be several months into 2021, and even 2022, before we can immunise significant numbers of people. It will take continued unprecedented efforts to ensure that we have enough doses and the appropriate funding and the right programmes in place to deliver a vaccine,” the Director emphasised.
As such, she highlighted the need for ongoing promotion and implementation of the appropriate public health measures to control cases, including wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing.
She said that patients must be tested, isolated, and cared for while continuing to quarantine persons with suspected infection.
Dr. Etienne stressed that the enormity of the task ahead in arresting COVID-19 “won’t be easy, neither is it going to be quick.”
“What we know is that we have worked hard in the last 10 months… but 2021 will be the year in which we will work even harder. I’m optimistic about our ability [as a region] to mobilise the will of power and resources that will be required in the New Year to overcome this pandemic,” she said.