Organization says misinformation could “cost lives”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Assistant Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa yesterday encouraged countries in the region to dispel misinformation concerning the safety and efficacy of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, insisting people’s perception of an available vaccine could “cost lives”.
“We call on countries across our region to help build the trust needed for the upcoming vaccines by providing transparent, accurate information about the vaccine development process as well as its safety and efficacy,” he said.
“Above all, we must all instill that against misinformation as these rumors has an impact on people’s perception and attitude toward a COVID vaccine.
“This will not only waste valuable time and resources, but it will also cost lives.”
Barbosa said while a COVID-19 vaccine is still some months away, continued preparation for its rollout is key.
He said countries must continue to enforce health guidelines such as social distancing and mask-wearing amid the pandemic.
According to Barbosa, while countries in the region continue to face challenges in responding to the virus, the development of potential COVID-19 vaccines is “good news”.
“This is encouraging and we are eager to review the accompanying data,” he said.
“However, we must be clear that only a vaccine that has proven safe and effective will be approved by regulators and adopted by the WHO (World Health Organization), and ultimately made available to the COVAX Facility.
“So, there is still much to be done.”
He added: “We know delivering a vaccine will be challenging and costly.
“In fact, the latest projections from the COVAX Facility from Latin American and the Caribbean estimated that vaccinating around 20 percent of the population will cost more than $2 billion.”
Barbosa noted that the organization continues to work with member states to ensure equitable access.
In the interim, Barbosa encouraged countries in the region to remain vigilant and build healthcare capacity in the face of accelerating cases in some parts of the Americas.
He said the United States continues to experience an acceleration of cases, with more than one million cases recorded in the last week alone.
Self-financing countries in the Americas participating in COVAX will have the option to purchase an approved vaccine through PAHO’s revolving fund, a mechanism that is expected to accelerate their access.
To date, 28 self-financing countries have signed agreements with the COVAX Facility.
Ten more countries in the Americas are eligible for support under the COVAX Advance Market Commitment.
“Because time is of the essence, many vaccine manufacturers have begun producing COVID vaccines even before regulatory approval, however, it is important to keep in mind that they can only be used once the clinical trials are complete; data on the safety and efficacy has been published and licensing received from regulatory authorities.”
The facility comprises 186 countries.
It aims to deploy at least two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.
“This is a remarkable figure, but we also know that it won’t be sufficient to vaccinate everyone — at least not first.
“Our main goal as we [enter] the first phase of vaccination is to save lives and that is why it is important to protect the most vulnerable first.
“The priority will be to protect the healthcare workers, and other frontline workers, as well as those at the high risk of developing severe disease.”
In September, the government invested $2 million to acquire 80,000 vaccines when an approved vaccine becomes available.
Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. recently announced results showing their vaccines appear more than 90 percent effective against the virus.
Both vaccines are awaiting approval from US regulators.
China has three vaccine candidates in final testing in several countries.
It has allowed emergency use for some people.
China has said it will offer its vaccine to The Bahamas when approved, though Chinese officials said the government has not made a formal request for assistance.
Last month, Minister of Health Renward Wells said no one will be forced to take a vaccine once one becomes available.
Wells has said the government will source a COVID vaccine through PAHO.