The Pan American Health Organization (OPS) hopes to have the vaccine against covid-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean between march and may through the Covax global access mechanism, and apply it “most likely” in stages.
This was said this week in an interview with . Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of PAHO, regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“In real terms, we believe that we will have vaccines to deliver to the countries in the first half of 2021,” he said. “We think for March, April or May.”
Here’s a summary of the talk:
Q: WHO created the Covax mechanism to equitably purchase and distribute the covid-19 vaccine. What countries in the region are included in it?
A: All the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have signed their interest in participating in the mechanism Covax. So far, 28 countries with the capacity to buy the vaccines have signed agreements with Covax, and another 10 countries are eligible for financial support.
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Q: How much does it cost to participate?
A: The cost is an initial payment that corresponds to about 15% of the volume of doses of vaccines that are estimated to be received in the first phase. Some countries have requested a dose volume proportional to 10% of their population, others 15%, 20%, 30%. To estimate the price, an average was made between the cheapest vaccines ($ 2 to $ 2.5 per dose) and the most expensive ($ 25 to $ 30).
Q: What vaccines will be offered?
A: The great advantage of the Covax mechanism is that we are going to work with a large basket of producers, we want to have 10 to 15 producers. The goal is to have 2 billion doses in the first year so that the 184 participating countries can access the vaccine. PAHO and UNICEF launched the first public call for proposals last week. We hope in a couple of weeks to have a consolidation of all of them, with the available doses, delivery times and prices.
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Q: Pfizer, Moderna and Sputnik V reported efficacy levels greater than 92% in their experimental vaccines. Will they be at the Covax?
A: Those preliminary results are definitely good news. But they are not enough. There are currently 11 vaccines in phase 3, which is the final stage of clinical trials. They all have to complete them, publish the data so that the international scientific community can review it, then be approved by the regulatory authority of each country. And in our case, the WHO also needs to say that they meet the safety and efficacy requirements. Any vaccine, from Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, all those that are in the phase 3 process are very welcome to participate in Covax.
Q: Are many countries in the region in Covax and at the same time negotiating with the producers?
A: There are several countries in the region that also have bilateral agreements with producers. It is a way to expand your options. Bilateral agreements with one or another producer can always have some risk because something can happen with the vaccine. And for these agreements in general the producers require an advance payment. But it is a decision of each country.
Q: When will the Covax get the shots?
A: In real terms we believe that we will have vaccines to deliver to the countries in the first half of 2021. Our expectation is that the most advanced producers will deliver the data to the regulatory authorities by December, January. So with time for evaluations, production, delivery, we think March, April or May may be a good bet.
Q: What are the main challenges in distributing the vaccine? Pfizer’s, for example, needs to be kept very low.
A: A vaccine that needs to be stored at -75ºC has never been used. That is a challenge for all countries, not just for those in the region. There are more than 100 vaccines in development, but the others that are closer to completing clinical trials all use the same cold chain that countries already use.
Q: Another challenge is vaccination.
A: Latin America and the Caribbean have excellent experience in vaccination programs, but it is always a challenge to organize a campaign with these characteristics, which will most likely be in stages. A first phase will be for health professionals, essential workers and people with conditions that generate a greater risk of developing severe forms of covid-19, and then expand to other groups of the population.
Q: Would you get vaccinated?
A: Yes, immediately, definitely.
Q: What happens if not many people get vaccinated?
A: Vaccines have an individual protective effect and an effect of herd immunity. We do not have the final data on what is the proportion to achieve herd immunity against covid-19. There is talk of 70%, 75%, 80%, but it has to be confirmed. So it is very important that the authorities provide very transparent, very objective information so that the population can understand the great advantage of having access to this vaccine.
A: The more people vaccinated the better for everyone.
P: That’s right.