WASHINGTON, DC, USA, Wed. Feb. 3, 2021– Last week, at a press conference hosted by the Pan American Health Association (PAHO) to discuss distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Assistant Director of PAHO, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, said that “the next shipment [of vaccines] will be sent as normally through COVAX and they will begin with AstraZeneca vaccines.” and he noted that the Serum Institute’s vaccine from India is still pending Emergency Use Authorization from the World Health Organization (WHO).
COVAX, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative, as Barbosa explains, is focused on providing global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. “All these estimates, for the countries, agree with the objective of an equitable distribution.”, said Barbosa, who noted that “during the 1st phase of distribution, COVAX will cover 3% of the population. This corresponds to a sufficient amount to protect those who are most vulnerable.”
When questioned about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Dr. Barbosa explained that there are two goals of the program: individual protection and collective protection. Individual protection is the protection that is given to each person who takes the vaccine, while collective protection will help to control transmission of the virus. Barbosa explained, “mathematical models show that we can use any vaccine that has more than 50% of efficacy rate, because these vaccines, if high vaccine coverage is reached, will protect and be proficient in controlling the transmission.” This established threshold can provide collective protection if high coverage is met. Even though high efficacy of a vaccine is preferred and would have an optimal effect, any efficacy above the threshold (50%) will be sufficient in curbing the effects of COVID-19, according to the officials.
Barbosa further stated that, “The vaccines to be purchased through COVAX, the revolving fund with PAHO and UNICEF, will only be acquiring vaccines that have been prequalified for Emergency Use according to WHO. Pfizer has already been authorized. AstraZeneca hasn’t been delivered yet, since they are still working on final reviews.” However, EMA, the regulatory agency working with WHO, believes that the data could allow all-inclusive vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Dr. Carissa Etienne, Director of PAHO, reinforced Dr. Barbosa’s statements by emphasizing that we must prioritize these early doses for our elderly and our health workers. “There is an urgency of building back better from this pandemic. We’re reminded that we must ensure that our health systems can adequately care for patients who are battling COVID-19, but can provide support for the millions of patients living with conditions like diabetes, hypertension and, of course, cancer,” Dr. Etienne said.
According to PAHO, technical analysis will be provided to countries for them to use within their national immunization plan. Detailed information about use and side effects of vaccines and suggested guidelines for participating countries will be included.