PAHO warns it will only support safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine

PAHO warns it will only support safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine

Saturday, October 24, 2020

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (CMC) – Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr Carissa F Etienne, on Wednesday warned that while the Americas, including the Caribbean, urgently awaits a breakthrough, the regional health organisation will only support the distribution of a novel coronavirus vaccine that has proven to be “safe and effective” in clinical trials.

The vaccine, she said, must be reviewed by National Regulatory Authorities and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“It is important to emphasise that while we're working to develop a vaccine faster than ever before, the process to guarantee its safety and efficacy is unchanged,” Etienne told a press briefing here.

She noted that there is a pipeline of more than 180 vaccine candidates under study, with 11 in phase III clinical trials.

What has changed “is the unprecedented attention on the vaccine development process”, said Dr Etienne, highlighting the “over-abundance of information from a number of sources, some less reliable than others and not based on science, which has led to confusion and misinformation around vaccine safety”.

The PAHO director emphasised that vaccines are designed and manufactured with safety in mind.

She said that once a COVID-19 vaccine proves safe and effective in a clinical trial, regulatory agencies thoroughly evaluate the data prior to granting approvals, and the WHO will also oversee an independent review process before granting its own recommendation.

“How we communicate about COVID-19 will make our ability to control the pandemic,” Dr Etienne said, calling for regional countries, the media, regulatory authorities, the private sector and the scientific community to come together to provide the public with “clear, concise and science-based information about a future COVID-19 vaccine”.

She said an important factor to establish trust in the new vaccines is to ensure their accessibility to all countries, adding that PAHO is supporting countries to gain access to these vaccines through the COVAX facility.

“Virtually every country in Latin America and the Caribbean has joined or is in the process of joining the facility,” said Etienne, stating that countries are taking the necessary legal and budgetary steps to participate in this innovative global partnership.

“We are actively collaborating with financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank to support countries in our region access the funding needed to purchase vaccines through the COVAX facility when they are available,” she added.

“PAHO's Revolving Fund, with more than 40 years of experience providing affordable and quality vaccines to countries in Latin American and the Caribbean, will be, along with UNICEF [the United Nations Children's Fund], the purchase mechanism for the COVAX facility,” Dr Etienne continued.

In the Caribbean, she said 11 countries will receive financial support for initial payments to join the COVAX facility, in collaboration with the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the European Union.

The PAHO director said there have been more than 40 million cases and over 1.1 million deaths worldwide due to COVID-19, including 18.9 million cases in the region of the Americas and over 610,000 deaths as of October 20.

“Across our region, around 100,000 people continue to test positive for COVID-19 every day,” Etienne lamented.

She pointed to trends that show cases rising in the United States and Canada, and plateauing across Central America, while most new cases in the Caribbean are related to non-essential international travel.

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