One vaccine approved thus far in COVAX facility
PAHO director says next two years “critical” for vaccine distribution; countries must manage expectations
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) will not support the implementation of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination passports, according to Deputy Director of the PAHO Health Emergencies Department Dr Sylvain Aldighieri.
During the first PAHO/WHO press briefing of the year on the global pandemic, Aldighieri explained that with limited access to and supply of vaccines globally, the move would widen inequalities.
“At present, WHO is not recommending proof of vaccinations against COVID-19 as a tool for introducing changes to the way that people are engaging in non-essential occupational activities, in travel, in religious and cultural activities,” he said when asked about the organization’s position on the matter.
Aldighieri noted that there is currently a lack of evidence whether vaccination would reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.
“At present, the introduction of requirements for vaccine passports or a vaccine passport is not justifiable,” he continued.
“It would fuel a full sense of security and…it would have the potential to trigger the relaxation and adherence to personal protective measures, social distancing measures and with possibly dramatic consequences on the dynamic of the transmission of the virus, as well as widen the inequalities.”
Aldighieri called on local and national authorities, the private sector and citizens to make an effort in understanding the current science behind vaccination efforts and to operate in a spirit of solidarity.
“We are at the very early days of the COVID-19 vaccinations rollout, deployment to the country with long months ahead of us,” he said.
The Bahamas is a part of the COVAX Facility convened by Gavi, CEPI and the WHO, which will afford countries in the region the best opportunity to fast-track access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The COVAX Facility will offer access to a basket of 15 possible vaccines.
According to PAHO Director Dr Carissa F Etienne, one vaccine has already been approved for use by the WHO and more approvals are underway.
Etienne explained that there are 190 vaccine candidates, but it is not guaranteed that they will all be approved.
She said distribution is expected to begin by the end of March.
A handful of countries in the region have already begun vaccinating health professionals and vulnerable populations.
“However, as long as doses remain limited, we can’t rely on vaccinations to flatten the pandemic curve,” the PAHO director said.
She urged leaders to act “transparently” so that the public understands their decisions, and the scientific evidence behind those decisions, so citizens can rally around a shared plan.
“We need leaders to act in the interest of public health, not political gain, by working together to make the best use of the tools to prevent this virus,” Etienne added.
“Politicizing vaccines and other control measures is not just unhelpful, but it could fuel the virus and cost lives.”
Etienne noted the next two years will be critical as vaccinations of the majority of the population will not happen overnight and those expectations will have to be managed.
She said countries must use the interim period to make sure they are ready and begin the prioritization process.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on Tuesday announced the appointment of a COVID-19 Vaccine National Consultative Committee to advise the Ministry of Health in support of the National COVID-19 vaccination plan.
The committee will be chaired by Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis and is made up of public health experts and representatives of various sectors including religious and community leaders.