The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F. Etienne, is calling for regional immunization against COVID-19 to become a global priority.

At a recent news conference, Dr Etienne reported that since March 1st, some 3 million COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to 28 countries in the Americas through the COVAX Facility, but much more must be done if PAHO is to achieve its goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the Americas by year’s end.

The PAHO boss confirmed that 49 countries and territories in the Americas have introduced COVID-19 vaccines and administered more than 210 million doses.  According to PAHO figures, that 210 million includes COVAX supplies, and vaccines procured through bilateral deals that countries made individually with pharmaceutical companies.

According to Dr Etienne, supplies still fall far short of the coverage needed to protect vulnerable groups.

“Because of the global limitations on manufacturing vaccines, it has been difficult for our region to gain access to the vaccines we need to immunize our populations,” Dr. Etienne noted. “Vaccine production for approved COVID19 vaccines needs to increase worldwide, because none of us will be safe until all are safe.”

“Current progress is far from reaching the coverage necessary to protect the most vulnerable groups, about 20% of the population, to reduce the high mortality in our Region,” she added.

PAHO’s Director has called for immunization in the Americas, which has the highest burden of cases and deaths, to become a global priority.

“Attaining vaccine equity and distributing as many vaccines as possible to as many people as possible is our current goal,” Dr Etienne said, underscoring the point that vaccines “are not yet the main method of slowing transmission of COVID-19. We must maintain and adjust our public health and social measures in every country.”

Countries began receiving COVAX deliveries on March 1st, with the goal of ensuring fair and equitable access for the 36 participating countries in the Americas. These include 26 self-financing countries and 10 countries supported through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment mechanism.

The COVAX Mechanism is a global effort involving CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF, PAHO, and WHO to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 immunization. The rollout of COVAX vaccines, a historic milestone, was the culmination of months of negotiations and collaboration between the ministries of health, PAHO, and other partners. The PAHO Revolving Fund, designated by COVAX, has been working to procure vaccines on behalf of the countries in the Americas.

Worldwide, 674 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, including about 36 million doses that COVAX shipped to 86 participating countries.