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Dr Carissa Etienne

With dozens of COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world and the recent death of a Brazilian volunteer, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says it will only support the distribution of a vaccine for the region if it proves to be safe and effective through clinical trials.

PAHO director Dr Carissa Etienne made the announcement during a weekly briefing yesterday, as she the vaccine will also have to be reviewed by national regulatory authorities and recommended by the World Health Organisation before it’s released to the public. “It’s important to emphasise that while we are working to develop a vaccine faster than ever before, the process to guarantee its safety and efficacy is unchanged,” Ettienne said.

But as the world waits for a possible cure for a virus that has affected over 41 million people globally and killed more than one million, including 101 here in Trinidad and Tobago up to yesterday, PAHO is putting things in place to ensure vaccines are available for all in the region when there is a breakthrough.

“We are actively collaborating with financial institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank to support countries in our region access the funding needed to purchase vaccines through the COVAX facility when they are available,” Ettienne said.

“Virtually every country in Latin America and the Caribbean has joined or is in the process of joining the facility.”

The COVAX facility is a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

Ettienne said the organisation is also collaborating with the European Union and Caribbean Public Health Agency to provide financial support for the downpayment required for Caribbean countries to join.

“Eleven countries will be covered by this…Our region is hard at work preparing for a vaccine,” she said, adding this will help ensure the most vulnerable in the Caribbean can benefit from a safe and effective vaccine as protecting them is key.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” Ettienne said.

PAHO’s revolving fund and UNICEF will also contribute to the cause.

Etienne also encouraged Caribbean citizens to continue following the COVID-19 guidelines, as she said it will be important even if a vaccine is developed.