Only three percent of the area’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Less than four percent of the medicinal products used during the pandemic come from the region. The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says vaccine production and medical supplies in the region need to expand to reduce over-dependence on imports and increase access to vaccines.
It called for bridging “ deep gaps ” in access to COVID-19 vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean by relying less on imports and more on expanded regional production of medical products, including vaccines. Etienne noted that only three percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean receive full vaccination against COVID-19 and stressed that the lack of vaccine is a “ symptom ” of our region’s over-reliance on importing essential medical supplies. Less than 4 percent of the medical products used in the response to COVID come from the region.
“Expanding our regional capacity to produce strategic medical supplies – especially vaccines – is imperative, both for our people and for health safety,” she told reporters at her weekly press conference.
Building blocks mass production
Etienne drew attention to the region’s “building blocks” of inclusive industrialization – strong academic and research institutions, manufacturing capacity and regulatory systems, and an effective procurement mechanism. She said Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Mexico have established vaccine manufacturing facilities, some of which are being modernized to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
“We need to increase production for the entire value chain of the vaccine – from the ingredients used in vaccines to the vials and syringes that help us deliver them – without compromising the quality,” she said.
Etienne added that the region should “embrace the potential of the messenger RNA technologies that support the highly effective Moderna and Pfizer vaccines,” but it could be used in other vaccines as well. “The Pan American Health Organization is working closely with the World Health Organization on the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology transfer center,” she said.
“The PAHO is also in talks with regional partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States and its member states, to ensure that countries interested in expanding production receive resources and support,” she said. Argentina, Chile and Peru are among the countries that have already shown interest.
“For this to work, we need a roadmap, a commitment to buy regionally made products, and an assurance that products will flow freely and without export bans – even during emergencies,” Etienne said. “Our revolving fund is ready to help procure and deliver these products across our region, just as we did. Over the past 40 years. “
“It has been a long time since we established a regional manufacturing network built on our national strengths and backed by ongoing financial commitments,” she said. “It is also our best hope for a sustainable solution, because COVID will not be the last virus to test our health systems.”
The PAHO has provided more than 12 million purchased COVAX vaccine doses to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. COVAX is the global alliance for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Etienne said another 770,000 doses were on their way to Central America and the Caribbean.
She also spoke about the heavy losses of the epidemic, noting that more than 1.2 million new cases of Covid-19 and about 31 thousand deaths were recorded in the Pan-American region last week.
Reduction in inflammation
Etienne said that while COVID-19 infections generally decreased in the region last month, new cases and deaths were still on the rise in many countries. In several Caribbean countries – including the Bahamas, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago – COVID-19 deaths doubled in the past week. Costa Rica, Panama and parts of Honduras have reported large increases in the number of new infections.
The number of injuries is increasing in Bolivia and French Guiana, while the “declining trends” have stopped in Brazil in recent weeks. “Despite the general decline in most South American countries, some hotspots in Argentina and Uruguay have seen the number of cases and deaths double in the past week,” she said.
Etienne said that conditions surrounding the epidemic have changed dramatically in the United States, “where widespread coverage (of the vaccine) has led to a sharp decline in infections, deaths, and hospitalizations in the United States.” “The progress we’re seeing in the United States is testament to the power of safe and effective COVID vaccines, but it underscores the vital importance of speeding up access to vaccines throughout our region so that these countries can fully immunize their populations.”
She stressed, “We urgently need more vaccines for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is a region that has been tested due to this epidemic.”