WASHINGTON, United States (CMC)— The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa Etienne says the severe shortage of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean is a “wake-up call” for increased regional production of vaccines and announced the start of a new platform to reach that goal.
“This week, PAHO will launch a platform to boost regional vaccine manufacturing efforts, beginning with the first in a series of meetings to promote greater coordination across countries and to enlist partners from both the public and private sectors to turn this idea into reality,” Dr Etienne said.
Explaining the drive for the new platform, the Dominican-born PAHO director said that “limited production and unequal distribution of vaccines” compromise the region’s pandemic response and “put public health at very high risk”.
She said reliance on imports makes Latin America and the Caribbean more vulnerable, adding “our region imports 10 times more pharmaceuticals than we produce.
“I believe that the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination crisis must be a wake-up call that we must expand regional pharmaceutical production so we can be in the driver’s seat of our own pandemic responses,” she said.
Leaders from global financial institutions, governments, and public health agencies are due to meet later on Friday to discuss the platform, which will foster research and incentivize development and manufacture of health technologies.
“PAHO is already spearheading initiatives to help reduce our dependency on pharmaceutical imports,” Dr Etienne said.
AHO is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to bring the highly effective mRNA vaccine technology into the region.
Dr Etienne said so far, over 30 public and private companies and institutions have expressed desire to take part in the technology transfer, and PAHO is in the “process of identifying the most promising proposals”.
The goal is to take advantage of existing production capacities that could contribute to manufacture mRNA vaccines in the Americas. The principle is that manufacture should benefit the entire region, with regional pharmaceutical production and distribution of the vaccines by PAHO’s Revolving Fund to all countries.
Only about 23 per cent of people in the region have been fully vaccinated, and in many countries, coverage is much lower.
“Just as manufacturers adapted quickly to produce some of the PPE and ventilators our region needed earlier in the pandemic, we must bring the same spirit of collaboration into vaccine production in the region,” she said.
Noting that investment is key, Dr Etienne said the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and other partners have expressed desire to help the region expand its pharmaceutical production.
“The region’s values of Pan Americanism and solidarity can help us strengthen pharmaceutical production. The investments we make today will not only help us get through this pandemic faster, but they will also lay the groundwork to deal with future health crises, so we have no time to waste.”