To tackle unequal access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world – a problem that remains “the Achilles’ heel” of the pandemic battle – the World Health Organization is starting a vaccine production program in Latin America and the Caribbean, said Dr. Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, Wednesday.
“Much of the current vaccine stock is still in the hands of rich countries around the world,” she said. “We need to expand regional pharmaceutical production so we can be in the driver’s seat.”
She said her organization, which is part of WHO, was analyzing about 30 proposals to produce messenger RNA vaccines — the same type as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna injections — and expects to decide which ones to implement next month. .
According to Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, the pan-American agency’s assistant director, will prioritize the “most feasible proposals,” including those that already have guaranteed investment support, in an effort to accelerate the project.
The mRNA “vaccines are some of the most effective vaccines against Covid-19, and the technology is highly adaptable, so it has huge potential to be used against other viruses,” said Dr. Etienne.
Vaccines produced by the program will be distributed to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where, on average, only 23 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated so far. “In many countries, coverage is much lower,” said Dr. Etienne. “In Guatemala, just over 3 percent of people have been vaccinated, and in Jamaica, just over 4 percent.”
Many islands in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, are reporting a surge in new cases and Haiti’s health system is struggling to care for survivors of the devastating August 14 earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.
“Logistics and security challenges continue to limit supplies supply, staff deployment in affected areas and patient transfers to other hospitals,” said Dr. Etienne.