PAHO offers COVID-19 vaccine hope for JamaicaSaturday, November 14, 2020
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging the region not to worry over the safety and effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine, as it is ensuring that developing countries like Jamaica receive the best inoculation against the novel coronavirus at the same time as rich countries.
Assistant director of PAHO Dr Jarbas Barbosa says developing countries in the region do not have the spending power to negotiate with multiple pharmaceutical companies on their own, to ensure access to vaccines for the novel coronavirus when they are ready.
For this reason, Barbosa said, the COVAX (a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines) facility is the most effective means of securing equity alongside rich countries, not just outside the region, but also within the region.
Barbosa was a special guest of the Ministry of Health and Wellness's virtual COVID Conversations on Thursday.
He explained that with 11 vaccines now in the final stages of clinical trials it is not known which one will be ready first, nor the levels of protection they will provide.
“Maybe one of them will work in elderly people, maybe one of them will work better with two doses every year... we don't know for sure. So the countries that are making bilateral agreements with the producers are spending a lot of money... they are making commitments and they are paying for this,” said Barbosa.
The PAHO executive said it is almost impossible for poor and developing countries to pay for this kind of arrangement with the pharmaceutical companies.
“Because you don't know who is the producer who will have the best vaccine, so you need to make commitments with three or four or five [of them] and paying each one,” said Barbosa as he noted that COVAX, on the other hand, is working with all the pharmaceutical companies.
“We are trying to get up to 15 producers. So it's almost impossible that many producers will not have a good vaccine that is safe and efficacious to distribute worldwide,” declared Barbosa.
He said PAHO and UNICEF are starting the bidding process for procurement and will receive the formal proposals from the producers about pricing and timeliness.
He noted that in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic the poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean had access to a vaccine six to eight months after richer countries in the region, an issue which will not arise under COVAX.
Barbosa said the hope is to have the first vaccines deployed across the region by March of next year.
But, initially just under 10,000 doses of the vaccine will be available to Jamaica for front line workers, followed by an increase to 20,000 doses for the most vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
This follows the protocol of an initial three per cent of a country's population being targeted for vaccination, Barbosa explained.
He stressed that PAHO has prioritised safety and efficacy, as it has been purchasing vaccines for member states for more than 40 years, and has high standards for safety and efficacy.
“We also require an extra step. For the vaccines to be purchased through the revolving fund they also need to be overqualified by WHO [World Health Organization], and extra guarantee that the vaccines that we purchase for our member states are the best vaccines available,” Barbosa emphasised.
Jamaica is among Caricom member states that have made a down payment for equitable access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX.