Through funding from the European Union, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in partnership with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), have secured down payments to purchase over 1M doses of the expected COVID-19 vaccine(s) for Caribbean Member States.
CARPHA Executive Director Dr Joy St John underscored her appreciation for the swift commitment of the two agencies which resulted in the transfer of funds as a down payment to PAHO to be routed through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is the administrator of the COVAX Facility. Speaking at a media briefing today, she noted that 12 CARPHA Member States have signed up with Gavi, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos. CARPHA is assisting 11 of these Member States, with all or a portion of the required down payment. The down payment is approximately 15 percent of the value of vaccines that countries intend to procure in the future, ranging between 15 percent to 33 percent of their populations.
“We have been able to support Antigua, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos Islands, with 100% of the down payment required by the COVAX Facility. We have been able to support Suriname with 18% of the down payment required by the COVAX Facility. These will cover just about 20% of the population in total,” Dr St John outlined.
Dr Carissa F. Etienne, Director of PAHO and Regional Director for the Americas of the World Health Organization, sent a message stating that the COVAX Facility provides the best opportunity for countries to fair and equitable access to a pool of candidate vaccines. “This will require the development and implementation of national plans that include strategic health promotion and communication strategies to ensure vaccine demand,” she noted.
Under the agreement, PAHO will receive the funds from CARPHA for transfer to Gavi for the required down payments. When the vaccines are available, Member States will purchase them through the PAHO Revolving Fund.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa, Assistant Director at PAHO, noted that global equitable access to a vaccine through the COVAX facility, will allow the countries, in the first phase, to receive a number of doses that is equivalent to 20% of their population. This volume will allow them to protect health care workers, frontline workers, and those most-at-risk such as people with 65 years and more and adults with underlying conditions. The access to COVID-19 vaccine will be facilitated because our PAHO’s Revolving Fund, a 40-year experienced mechanism, is working closely with the COVAX facility and will be responsible for purchasing and deploying vaccines when they are available.
“There have been a number of important developments in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 200 vaccine candidates are being studied and the global health community is working diligently in the hopes that one or more of these will prove to be effective. We do not yet know which vaccine or vaccines will be found safe and effective. But we do know that if we don’t prepare now, we will miss the opportunity to benefit from it quickly. There are currently 10 vaccines in Phase 3 of clinical trials, or the final stages of clinical trials, all of them in negotiations with the COVAX Facility” Dr Barbosa explained.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the 20 CARICOM countries there have been over 40,000 reported cases and 864 deaths (as of 14 October). The initial vaccination coverage facilitated by the grant will prioritise healthcare and frontline workers. In some tourism-dependent countries, this will include tourism workers. Priority will also be given to persons who are at risk of severe COVID-19, those over age 60 and persons with underlying chronic diseases. The COVAX Facility aims to make investments into the acceleration of manufacturing and scale-up of an approved COVID-19 vaccine candidate to secure 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.
The EU, which has an €8M grant with CARPHA for health systems strengthening for communicable diseases, has committed to mobilizing resources for the Coronavirus Global Response. Mr. Luis Maia, Head of Cooperation, stated that the pandemic undermines all the Sustainable Development Goals. “And, for this reason EU solidarity must prevail to stop the transmission worldwide. The COVAX Facility is a global initiative that brings together governments, manufacturers, and other stakeholders to ensure that future, effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines will reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live… The EU recognizes that no one will be safe until everyone is safe and is committed to ensuring that needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world,” Mr Maia said.
The COVAX Facility is co-led by Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO. This collaboration aims to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.