By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE Pan American Health Organisation will meet with regional Ministries of Health this week to discuss distribution and purchasing of a COVID-19 vaccine.
PAHO assistant director Jabas Barbosa said talks and preparation should be completed by February 2021.
Bahamian officials have made a $250,000 down payment for 80,000 doses of a vaccine, however a decision has not yet been made on which specific drug this nation will acquire.
However, a Ministry of Health insider told this newspaper officials are seriously considering the vaccine made by AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals because of its lower cost and the fact that, unlike the vaccine made by Pfizer, it was easy to store.
PAHO director Dr Carissa Etienne did not say which vaccines will be recommended for this region, but said PAHO will assist countries in planning to receive them.
“This week, PAHO is convening member states in an Extraordinary Session of our Directing Council, where we’ll meet with the Ministries of Health of our region to discuss the preparation for vaccine roll out and purchasing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the region through our Revolving Fund through the COVAX Facility,” she said.
“Despite the financial hardship that our region has incurred during the pandemic, countries in the Americas have done their part in securing more than $1 billion in down-payments and financial guarantees to engage with COVAX. PAHO has helped several countries in our region navigate and meet the requirements of the COVAX facility, and we’re focused on making sure every country’s investment counts.”
The United Kingdom began vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19 with a Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday, becoming the first nation to do so. Several vaccines are currently awaiting approval for use in the United States.
PAHO is hopeful that the COVID-19 vaccines, which will soon come on the market, will help contain the pandemic, but admitted this will take time and advance planning. Dr Etienne shared an update on the region’s preparations for a successful vaccine rollout.
“Let me start by saying that while a number of vaccine candidates are under consideration, no vaccine has been approved for distribution across our region yet,” she noted. “The Americas represents a fifth of all COVAX-participating countries and an estimated third of all vaccines that will be procured for self-financing countries via COVAX.
“But funding is just one area in which we’re supporting our member states. We’re also working hard to ensure that once vaccines are approved and available, countries are prepared to roll them out.”
The World Health Organisation has developed a readiness assessment tool that PAHO, she said, has adapted for the region to ensure that member states have the guidance they need on everything from engaging the staff, regulatory aspects, communication, resources and trainings needed to prepare their health systems for vaccination campaigns, to ensuring their logistics systems, cold chains and supply chains can respond quickly.
“At first, we won’t have enough doses to protect everyone, so the objective is to save lives using the first deployment to reach those most vulnerable to develop severe forms of COVID-19,” Dr Etienne continued. “That’s why PAHO has also been supporting member states in developing their national immunisation plans.
“Each country must identify priority groups and adapt communications campaigns and materials to meet their needs, including by working alongside community leaders to empower communities to seek vaccination. Health care workers will likely be among the first to benefit from a vaccine and will also play a key role in raising awareness about the importance of immunisation.”
PAHO reports that since the start of the pandemic, the region has seen over 28.5 million cases and 753,000 deaths due to COVID-19.
Cases in The Bahamas have been trending down in the past few weeks. On Tuesday, just five new cases were reported: three in New Providence, one in Grand Bahama and one in the Berry Islands. The country had 7,585 cases as of Tuesday and 163 deaths.