PAHO/WHO and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) hosted a webinar titled “Preparing for COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Surveillance in the Caribbean” in November 2020, bringing together over 180 public health professionals from immunization programs and medicines regulators from 20 Caribbean countries and territories.
One of the tools that was discussed and that countries can start utilizing is the Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool. This tool was developed by WHO and UNICEF, and it is intended to be used by Ministries of Health, with support from PAHO, as a roadmap for countries to plan for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and a structured framework for countries to self-monitor their readiness progress against key milestones. Among its 10 modules, the tool has considered a section specifically for vaccine safety surveillance that can guide countries’ actions.
In welcoming participants, Caribbean Subregional Program Coordinator, PAHO, Mrs. Jessie Schutt-Aine, noted that while the world is eagerly waiting for the results of the current clinical trials, safety is a key consideration with any health technology that will be administered to millions of people. “We need to be prepared to introduce this life saving technology in all countries and to do the corresponding safety surveillance. For this, countries will need to ensure that they have: guidelines and procedures in place to conduct vaccine pharmacovigilance activities, competent and trained staff to perform the vigilance activities, established coordination mechanisms between relevant stakeholders, and clear communication channels with regional and subregional partners, as well as with the public, to combat any misinformation on the vaccine’s safety that may lead to a vaccine hesitancy movement,” she advised.
Presenters included Dr. José Luis Castro, PAHO Advisor, Medicines, Vaccines and other Health Technologies, Dr. Desiree Pastor, PAHO Advisor – Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit and Dr. Rian Marie Extavour, Technical Coordinator, CARPHA-CRS. The current landscape of vaccine development, the main theoretical risks associated with the different vaccine platforms that are being used, the background of Events Supposedly Attributable to Vaccination or Immunization (ESAVI) surveillance in the Americas, as well as the tools and guidance that PAHO is currently developing to support countries in the region, were discussed.