The deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in the Caribbean and other countries across the Americas, under the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, is anticipated to get underway by the end of March.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, made the disclosure during a digital media briefing on Wednesday.
An initial two billion vaccine doses have already been secured from Pfizer Inc. under COVAX for distribution globally in 2021, with another 1.3 billion programmed for 2022.
The two billion doses are expected to cover the first phase of the vaccination rollout targeting 20 per cent of beneficiary countries’ vulnerable populations, including healthcare workers, persons with underlying conditions, and the elderly.
Pfizer is also expected to provide one million vaccines to be used in some regional countries under a proposed pilot arrangement in February.
Dr. Etienne said the COVAX Facility will provide access to a basket of 15 vaccines, noting that the Pfizer vaccine is the only one already prequalified by the WHO.
Pfizer was issued with a license to facilitate the emergency use of the vaccine, which has already been distributed in a number of countries globally.
Dr. Etienne further pointed out that there are more than 100 additional vaccine candidates in the COVAX Facility pipeline.
“We are not sure that all of them are going to be approved, but it is encouraging to see that so many vaccines are in development. With one vaccine approved for use by the WHO and more on the way, we are moving closer to controlling this pandemic,” she added.
Meanwhile, the number of vaccine manufacturers attaining prequalification and emergency licensing under the COVAX Facility could shortly increase to at least three.
“Moderna will… probably…be the second one in a couple of days,” said PAHO Assistant Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, adding that AstraZeneca “is also providing all the documentation to be the third”.
Dr. Barbosa said WHO has also commenced prequalification negotiations with the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia, which manufactured the Sputnik V vaccine, and Chinese biopharmaceutical company, Sinovac, manufacturers of the Coronavac vaccine.
“They will share documentation and critical data about critical phase-one, two and three clinical trials,” he indicated.
Dr. Barbosa noted that this information is required of all vaccine producers interested in participating in the COVAX Facility. “We have had conversations with… around 16 producers and all will need to be assessed by exactly the same criteria,” he pointed out.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 39 million persons across the Americas have been infected, and more than 925,000 have died.