The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says it is working with countries in the region, like Jamaica, where COVID-19 vaccination rates remain low, in an effort to ramp up the use of vaccines either bought through the COVAX facility or donated by various governments.
Asked during PAHO's weekly COVID-19 media conference yesterday whether Jamaica and other countries which have low vaccination rates, and where batches of vaccines have expired, could possibly face hesitancy from donor countries for future donations, PAHO Assistant Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa stressed that, “It's very important to use the vaccines. This is the main problem we have seen in Latin America and the Caribbean. Jamaica is one of the countries where, unfortunately, we have been seeing vaccine hesitancy among the population.”
Dr Barbosa said the agency is working with the ministries of health in Jamaica and other countries to develop and implement a communications strategy to reach the population, sharing with health professionals the most recent scientific evidence for COVID-19 vaccines, demonstrating the process of vaccine approvals and clinical trials that ensure vaccine safety and efficacy.
“So we are working with the countries because we need to use the vaccines, we need to protect the people, and we need to reduce transmission,” he said, noting that there is an effort to avoid a loss of vaccine doses.
He pointed to exceptional situations like in Haiti, where due to in-country difficulties some doses were moved to Honduras to prevent any loss of doses.
On the weekend, 185,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines expired here, while 369,000 doses donated by the Government of Canada arrived. More than 100,000 more doses of AstraZeneca will expire at the end of this month, and close to 60,000 doses expired at the end of September.
Earlier this week , head of the island's national COVID-19 vaccination programme Dr Melody Ennis told the Jamaica Observer that a 10-30 per cent wastage of doses is usually factored into vaccine use, and that donors are aware that the country had received vaccines that were nearing the end of their shelf life. She said there is no indication of hesitancy on the part of donors, as countries continue to offer Jamaica vaccines.
Meanwhile, Dr Barbosa said the vaccination progress in the region is encouraging but PAHO is working with several countries that continue to face delays, 19 of them still below the 40 per cent target set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Among them are Jamaica, Haiti, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Guatemala, which are all still below 20 per cent coverage.
“PAHO continues to work tirelessly to make these vaccines available to everyone in the Americas, but we are aware that most countries in the region still don't have enough doses to protect all adults, which makes it critical to follow expert guidance and maximise the impact of the doses that are available,” Dr Barbosa said.
The region of the Americas reported more than 745,000 new COVID-19 infections and just over 18,000 related deaths this week, but has experienced eight consecutive weeks of an overall decline in COVID-19 cases, PAHO reported.
It said to date, 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across the region, and 46 per cent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is now fully vaccinated, with at least 32 countries having already reached the WHO's vaccination coverage target, and several more are on track to reach and surpass that benchmark by the end of the year.