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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the entity will support member countries to monitor the effectiveness and safety of a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine when one is approved.

Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Wednesday (September 23), Dr. Etienne, who noted that nearly 200 vaccine candidates are being studied, expressed the hope that “one or more of these will prove to be effective”.

“We don’t yet know which vaccine will be found safe and effective and how it will work. But, we do know that if we don’t prepare now, we will miss the opportunity to benefit from it quickly. Countries cannot wait to have all of the answers before they start planning and preparing to deliver a COVID vaccine,” she emphasised.

The PAHO Director advised that throughout the pandemic, the entity has been in frequent contact with health regulators across the Americas, updating them on vaccine developments that are crucial to informing the steps needed for approval.

“Once a vaccine proves safe and effective in trials, we will need countries to work together to quickly validate these findings. National regulatory authorities working alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) will have to swiftly assess and approve a vaccine candidate without compromising quality or cutting corners… this is important,” Dr. Etienne said.

These decisions, she added, “must be made transparently, based on the data and science, to earn the public’s trust”.

While acknowledging that preparations for COVID-19 vaccine deployment “will not be easy,” Dr. Etienne said the region of the Americas has a strong legacy of immunisation programmes that “give us a leg-up as we plan for the future”.

She pointed out that PAHO has, for years, been working to build regulatory capacity across the region through new technologies, techniques and expertise, adding that the success of vaccinations rests on “how information is shared”.

“Governments must provide clear guidance about the vaccines and their vaccination strategies to instil trust and minimise confusion. Misinformation during vaccination activities costs lives. We hope scientists do uncover an effective vaccine that offers lasting protection against COVID-19,” Dr. Etienne said.

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