The Pan American Health Organization has reached an agreement with Chinese manufacturer Sinovac to purchase millions of Covid-19 vaccines for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as part of an effort to make more vaccines available in a region where access has been very uneven.
The agency, which is part of the World Health Organization, is negotiating with two other manufacturers and plans to announce new deals soon, Dr Jarbas Barbosa, its deputy director, said at a press conference on Wednesday. .
Sinovac has offered to sell 8.5 million doses this year and an additional 80 million next year, he said. Countries in the region that want the vaccine will need to purchase it from the health agency.
“This is a purchase – it is not a donation,” said Dr Barbosa, noting that the Inter-American Development Bank provided loans to countries in need.
Direct purchases begin at a time when, on average, only 35% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, said Dr Carissa F. Etienne, director of the agency.
And that coverage has been patchy. While some countries, including Chile and Uruguay, have fully immunized more than 70 percent of their populations, she said, others have yet to reach the 20 percent mark. The countries at the lower end of inoculation rates are the Bahamas, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela. Haiti is a particularly serious case, she said, with less than 1% of the population fully vaccinated.
The health organization, which is also working to expand vaccine manufacturing in the region, announced last week that a facility in Brazil and another in Argentina would receive technical support to begin production of messenger RNA vaccines, the type used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots.
But for now, said Dr Etienne, “vaccine donations remain the fastest way to support countries in our region”.