FLASHBACK - U.S. President Joe Biden, as he announced that his administration will share millions more doses of COVID-19 vaccines with other countries, in addition to the 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine he has already committed to sharing by July 4. (Image courtesy CNN)

Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F. Etienne, has welcomed the Biden Administration’s move to share millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The PAHO director yesterday thanked the United States Government for its commitment to a COVID-19 vaccine dose-sharing plan through COVAX.

“The actions announced today by the White House are a good step forward in our drive to get vaccines into the arms of our people in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Dr Etienne said.

She added: “We are grateful for this dose-sharing initiative and encourage other countries with surplus vaccines to follow the lead of the United States.”

This week, the United States said it plans to send the first tranche of 25 million doses, including 19 million procured through COVAX, to countries around the world.

“This includes approximately 6 million for South and Central America to the following countries: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, as well as the Dominican Republic,” an official statement from the White House specified.

It also said: “The United States will share vaccines in our region and across our borders. We first made doses available to our closest neighbours—Canada and Mexico.  Our dose-sharing approach prioritizes Latin American and the Caribbean on a per capita basis.”

The PAHO Director describes vaccines as a beacon of hope for the region.

“Effective vaccines are a beacon of hope in this crisis, and we must do all in our power to secure more doses for all nations in the Americas. Regional solidarity, including the donation of vaccine doses, will be key to get us through the current shortage of supply,” she said.

“This pandemic is far from over, and it is hitting Latin America and the Caribbean severely, affecting our health, our economies, and entire societies. Yet only about 8% of our citizens have been vaccinated,” Dr Etienne said. “The region is an epicentre for COVID-19 suffering. It should be an epicentre for vaccination, too.”

“Our most urgent need continues to be additional vaccines, and as we thank the United States, I also want to repeat our call for other donations of vaccines to the countries of the Americas, which have a high epidemiological burden and not enough vaccines to reach a high proportion of their populations,” she added.

So far, COVAX has delivered some 18.9 million doses of vaccines to 31 countries in the Americas.  

PAHO and its Revolving Fund are working with governments, producers, and other partners to ensure more vaccines can reach Latin America and the Caribbean, where these life-saving doses are urgently needed.