PAHO urges countries to plan early for COVID-19 vaccinations to reduce deaths


PAHO urges countries to plan early for COVID-19 vaccinations to reduce deaths

Friday, September 25, 2020

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (CMC) — Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne Wednesday warned that countries should continue public health measures such as social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks in public, as it may take time before people recive a vaccine to treat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Front-line health workers, first responders and those caring for the elderly should be vaccinated first, followed by vulnerable groups such as adults with pre-existing conditions, especially those over 65 years of age,” Dr Etienne said, adding that “the challenge lies in identifying these groups early and determining how to best reach them”.

She told reporters that even as a vaccine is rolled out “this virus will continue to spread, and people will continue to get sick, so we cannot pin all our hope on vaccines alone.

“We'll still need diagnostics to identify those who are sick and better treatments to care for those that fall ill. We'll continue to rely on traditional public health measures like tests, contact tracing and quarantines to minimise the spread of this virus.

“And we'll continue to count on people exercising social distancing, washing their hands often and wearing masks in public to protect others from getting sick,” the PAHO director said.

She said that when vaccines become available, the COVAX Facility, convened by GAVI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), will afford countries in the region the best opportunity to fast-track access to COVID-19 vaccines and reduce the impact of the pandemic on people's lives and their economies.

“The COVAX facility offers access to a basket of 15 possible vaccines,” she said.

Dr Etienne said nearly 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are being studied, “and we hope that one or more of these will prove to be effective, but there is no guarantee.

“Early vaccines may only provide partial protection or may not work for everyone. 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. The truth is countries can't wait to have all of the answers before they start planning and preparing to deliver a COVID vaccine,” Dr Etienne added.

She said the COVAX facility, including the Advanced Market Commitment financing instrument, has signed up 64 self-financing countries and 92 countries eligible for support through that instrument.

Dr Etienne said through COVAX, participating countries will be guaranteed initial doses to cover at least three per cent of their population in the first phases of deployment, as supplies catch up with global demand, eventually reaching 20 per cent of their population – enough to protect those at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

“Our region has a strong legacy of immunisation programmes that give us a leg up as we plan for the future,” she added.

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