PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne welcomed the expansion of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the Americas and reported that PAHO is working closely with member countries to “accelerate access” throughout the region.
The Bahamas has received its first COVID-19 vaccines, due to the Indian government’s donation of 20,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Dr. Etienne said during her weekly media briefing. Peru is scheduled to receive its first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine today through COVAX, the global mechanism to ensure equitable access to vaccines, regardless of countries’ incomes or the size of their economies.
On March 1, Colombia became the first regional country to receive vaccines through COVAX. “Today, these doses are being delivered to at-risk groups, including indigenous communities in the country’s Amazon region,” she said.
Dr. Etienne reported on upcoming arrivals of COVAX-procured vaccines. “Thanks to our collective efforts, nearly 2.3 million COVAX doses will arrive in at least seven countries in our region in the next days and weeks,” she said. The countries include Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Nicaragua as well as Peru.
Thirty-six countries in the Americas are receiving vaccines through COVAX.
“Over the last week, our Revolving Fund has been working closely with Member States to accelerate access to COVID vaccines,” she added, referring to the PAHO mechanism that many regional countries are using to procure vaccines.
For more than 40 years, the Revolving Fund has helped countries in the Americas vaccinate their populations against debilitating or potentially deadly diseases such as polio, measles, yellow fever, bacterial pneumonia, influenza, and the human papilloma virus (HPV). The Revolving Fund allows nations to pool their resources to purchase vaccines, syringes and related supplies at lower cost.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Revolving Fund is representing regional countries with COVAX, helping them procure vaccines through the mechanism. The Revolving Fund receives advance payments from countries, negotiates with manufacturers, and places orders on behalf of nations. When necessary, the Revolving Fund works with countries to extend financial credit to facilitate procurement. PAHO also handles the logistics of vaccine purchase and delivery, including shipping.
“The challenge now is to continue to accelerate deliveries to those countries that have not yet received COVAX doses to ensure that all countries receive their initial installments of vaccines this month,” Dr. Etienne said.
“PAHO is doing its part to help countries secure and deliver vaccines safely and as quickly as possible, but manufacturing limitations, low supply, and high demand for vaccines make this an uncertain situation,” she continued. “We must be patient, but we are being persistent in our pursuit of these vaccines. In the meantime, we need everyone to collaborate as we work to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.”
Dr. Etienne provided an update on the pandemic’s impact in the Americas, drawing attention to the increase in cases in South America.
Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile are reporting rising infection. In Brazil, cases are increasing in nearly every state. Over the last week, Brazil suffered its deadliest day since the pandemic began, with 1,910 COVID-related deaths reported in 24 hours. In the country’s state of Amazonas, which has been particularly hard hit, a new variant discovered late last year has led to a COVID-19 surge. The overwhelmed health care system continues to experience widespread shortages of medical supplies, including oxygen.
“We are concerned about the situation in Brazil,” Dr. Etienne said. “It provides a sober reminder of the threat of resurgence. Areas hit hard by the virus in the past are still vulnerable to infection today.”
While Brazil struggles with resurgence, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico continue to report declining cases. Across Central America, countries are reporting declining infection. In the Caribbean, cases are declining in larger islands, although infection is rising in Cuba, the Bahamas, Saint Lucia and Guadeloupe.
In the past week, the Americas has reported more than one million cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to nearly 52 million. More than 1.2 million have died from the disease.