The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says it is working hard to source COVID-19 vaccines for countries, such as Jamaica, that are lagging behind with vaccinating their populations, but is urging those countries to make the necessary preparations to ensure that the doses are used as quickly as possible.
Director Dr Carissa F Etienne issued the appeal yesterday at PAHO’s weekly virtual press briefing. Her remarks come as Jamaica faces the possibility of dumping approximately 260,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines if they are not administered by the end of this month. Another roughly 100,000 doses will expire on November 30, based on data disclosed by the health and wellness ministry here in the first week of October.
The Dr Christopher Tufton-headed ministry has faced backlash over the dumping of 55,000 doses of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines last month. The doses were from a batch of 300,000 donated by the British Government in July, two months before their expiration dates.
There are questions as to whether the willingness of countries to donate more vaccines has been compromised due to the wastage. The Government has also been strongly criticised for offering the now depleted Pfizer vaccines to adults, instead of encouraging those who wanted Pfizer to take AstraZeneca or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and reserve the Pfizer for children 12-18 as was planned.
The Government’s vaccination programme has also been plagued by logistical problems and vaccine hesitancy.
Etienne said PAHO is pushing to speed up deliveries of vaccines, procured under the COVAX mechanism as well as donated doses, to the Caribbean and Latin American region.
“In the last few days we fast-tracked the delivery of a total of 1.3 million doses that were donated by Spain, Germany, the United States of America, and Canada. These vaccines are being used to boost coverage in Honduras, Guyana, Argentina, and Jamaica. We’re supporting Jamaica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua in finalising preparations to receive COVAX and bilateral shipments in the coming weeks,” she advised.
The director stressed that it is time for countries to hire and train health workers to ensure that vaccines are administered quickly.
She pointed out that to roll out vaccination programmes at scale, countries must also now expand cold chains and invest in health systems, as financial institutions and donors are expressing a willingness to support countries to make these improvements.
During the past week, the region of the Americas reported more than 1.1 million new cases of COVID-19 and over 24,000 related deaths.
Etienne pointed out that in order to reach the World Health Organization’s just-launched new strategy to vaccinate 40 per cent of the population of every country by the end of 2022, countries in the region must work together to benefit from this target.