PAHO to Help Members Buy Vaccines as Delta Variant Drives COVID-19 Across Americas
PAHO is supporting vaccinations of indigenous people

As the Delta variant continues to fuel COVID-19 cases and deaths across the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is becoming more proactive in procuring vaccines for its members.

PAHO announced this week that its Revolving Fund, which provides access to vaccines at affordable prices, is now open for requests from member states for COVID-19 vaccines for the last three months of 2021 and for 2022. 

The new initiative aims to make available tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses, “beyond the 20% that COVAX offers”, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told a media briefing on Wednesday.

“It is an initiative that will benefit every country in the region, but especially those that lack the resources and the negotiating power to secure the doses that they need to protect their people,” she said.

More than 20 countries in the Americas have formally expressed interest in the Revolving Fund offer, which consolidates regional demand so that vaccines can be procured in bulk and also procures syringes, cold-chain equipment, and other supplies.

But the region is still short of doses needed to turn the tide of the pandemic, said Etienne, calling for “a significant influx of vaccines and a more equitable process of distribution”.

The Revolving Fund has been working in three key areas to increase access to COVID-19 doses: through purchase and delivery of vaccines on behalf of the COVAX facility; supporting bilateral donations; and providing complimentary access to vaccines in order to achieve high coverage to control the pandemic.

Cases increase in North America, decrease in Brazil

Over 1.3 million COVID-19 cases and 19,000 COVID-related deaths were reported in the Americas in the past week, PAHO announced at a press briefing on Wednesday. 

Canada, Mexico, and the United States are reporting increases in infections and deaths. 

Cases are falling in Panama and Costa Rica, but rising in Honduras and Belize, with a 30% increase reported in El Salvador. 

However, South America is reporting an overall decline in cases, including in the Andean region and Brazil, and substantial drops in Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia. 

Etienne noted that though there is a surge in cases, this also presented  “good evidence that wherever vaccines are available, they limit severe illness and save lives.’

“That is why increasing access to vaccines remains our top priority, not just for some countries, but for all countries.” 

PAHO concerned over anti-vax protests in Caribbean

Amid a number of vaccine related-protests in Antigua and Barbuda and other Carribean countries and territories, PAHO expressed concern over the rise in vaccine hesitancy and limited hospital capacity in the region. 

Police used teargas to break up a demonstration against a government decision that frontline workers in Antigua and Barbuda need to be vaccinated. 

Meanwhile, at a protest against mandatory vaccination in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves was injured when a protester threw an object at his head.

Etienne expressed deep concern over these protests and urged caution in order to control the spread of the pandemic, making a special appeal to her fellow Caribbean residents.

“It is really foolhardy to not adhere to public health measures and not be vaccinated in a situation where [hospital] capacity is limited. We are playing with our lives. My appeal is to wake up from that slumber, wake up from that dream, because we know that vaccines are safe.”   

Supporting indigenous communities in vaccination campaigns 

PAHO is also involved in increasing vaccine access to remote and vulnerable communities, such as the indigenous communities of Central and South America.

More than 134,000 indigenous people have been fully vaccinated across Guatemala, and more than 312,000 have completed their vaccinations in Brazil. 

Seventeen countries in the Americas have listed indigenous peoples as a priority group for COVID vaccinations and vaccination campaigns are underway in those and  other countries.

But there is not enough data for every country on the vaccination rates of indigenous groups, leading PAHO to call for more data collection in order to resolve the challenges faced by this vulnerable minority. 

“We must ensure that our strategies are designed by, for, and with the communities they are intended to serve. Countries must engage indigenous groups as they design pandemic policies and adjust their COVID responses to ensure that they align with their needs and customs,” said Etienne recently.  

PAHO is working with groups that represent indigenous people in the region, such as the Fund for Development of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), to issue culturally appropriate recommendations in countries across the region and supporting cross-border vaccination campaigns to reach indigenous communities in the Amazonian regions of Colombia and Ecuador.

‘Climate-smart’ health facilities needed to mitigate climate change 

PAHO Director Carissa Etienne

PAHO officials have called for more investment in prevention to mitigate the impact of climate change following a major report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), that announced climate change as an existential health problem overshadowing all others.

Only 3% of health resources are invested in prevention and health promotion related to climate change, a number Etienne called ‘totally insufficient’. 

Etienne advocated for ‘climate-smart’ health facilities that can continue to be functional in the face of changing climate and extreme events.

“We need to build strong, resilient systems with the capacity to respond during emergencies, whether they are linked to climate change or pandemics. We need to prevent future pandemics that are linked to the disruption of our natural systems while maintaining the ability to keep us healthy and thrive as societies.” 

PAHO is now coordinating projects with partners to receive and implement funds from the Green Climate Fund, a platform built to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and also other donors in order to increase the ability of health systems to better anticipate, prepare, respond, and recover from climate events. 


Image Credits: PAHO.

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