Pan American Health Organization paving the way for COVID-19 vaccination in the Americas

Following decades of positive experience in forecasting and procuring vaccines and supplies from the Revolving Fund, The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) aligned with WHO and its partners to implement the COVAX Facility in the Americas. The COVID-19 pandemic represented an unprecedented challenge, and COVAX was the best way for PAHO’s Member States to access safe and effective doses equitably. COVAX doses arrived in Latin America in the first week of March 2021, only two months after high-income countries received and applied the first COVID-19 vaccine.

© WHO / PAHO On 16 March 2021 Nicaragua received 135 000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX.

COVID-19 has affected every country, and the beginning of the vaccine rollout has seen countries organizing mass vaccination campaigns. But this is nothing new for the Americas region.

For four decades the Americas has been a world leader in routine vaccination, vaccine introduction and implementation of mass vaccination campaigns against infectious diseases. The PAHO Revolving Fund — acting on its principles of solidarity and Pan-Americanism, equity, quality and transparency — has been working with its Member States to ensure access to vaccines to reach its immunization goals, helping the countries of the Americas to protect people against some of the world’s worst diseases such as polio, smallpox and measles.

The Revolving Fund has been key in understanding, collecting and forecasting demand for vaccines. The relationships built through the Revolving Fund and in-country PAHO offices have contributed to national immunization programs now being an integrated part of the health systems in the Americas, unlike other regions.

The Americas is a trailblazer in the introduction of new vaccines, like those against HPV and rotavirus. The political commitment from PAHO Member States in support of immunization has been critical to its success, as has the tireless dedication of health care workers who go the extra mile to ensure that every person in every corner of the region is reached by immunization services.

The Americas was the first region in the world to eliminate rubella, congenital rubella syndrome and measles; to eradicate smallpox; and to be declared polio-free.

School children march through the streets of Mexico on National Vaccination Day, 15 March 1986 carrying banners in favour of polio immunization. © WHO / Liba Taylor

Between 1987 and 2010, measles elimination efforts led to the implementation of 157 national vaccination campaigns, vaccinating a total of 440 million people of all ages. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean now vaccinate 100 million adults and children annually against seasonal flu. The region has extensive experience in adult vaccination and in prioritizing at-risk groups for COVID-19 vaccination such as older adults, health care workers and people with chronic conditions.

The Americas — particularly Latin America and the Caribbean — have been hit harder than any other region by COVID-19, with over 1.8 million deaths and more than 69.7 million cases by June 2021. PAHO has operated as Member States’ first port of call on all vaccine matters, regardless of whether they have joined the COVAX Facility through the Revolving Fund.

There are many steps to complete before vaccine doses can be administered in any particular country. PAHO has worked with Member States every step of the way to facilitate transparency and efficiency, enabling equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and supporting countries in their preparedness efforts. As vaccine doses become available, countries are ready to receive them and begin equitable distribution immediately.

Fabian Mauricio Niño Terraza, coordinator of the vaccination site, talks to PAHO/WHO Advisor in Family, Gender and Life Course Dr Ivy Lorena Talavera at a “pop-up” COVID-19 vaccination site in the indigenous community of Concordia, Colombia on 16 March 2021. © WHO / Blink Media — Nadège Masseurs

PAHO is working with Member States on vaccine procurement in a variety of ways:

  • Assisting countries in understanding and preparing to meet the COVAX requirements, including financial, legal, programmatic, regulatory, among others.
  • Updating countries about market dynamics and financial projections to estimate their investment in COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Forecasting and securing supplies related to vaccine administration, such as syringes and safety boxes.
  • Ensuring that routine immunization programmes are able to continue safely.
  • In those cases where bridge funding is required to access COVID-19 vaccine doses in a timely manner, the Revolving Fund is working with countries to extend financial credits.
  • Channelling down payments to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for countries with administrative restrictions.
  • International bidding and joint tender with UNICEF, establishing long-term agreements with suppliers to issue price estimates, purchase orders and requisitions in record time.
  • Coordinating and monitoring international logistics for 36 countries in the Americas region.

As part of the preparations to roll out COVID-19 vaccines, PAHO reviewed countries’ national vaccination and deployment plans, offering feedback and technical assistance in areas such as planning and coordination, cold chain, costing and funding, identifying target populations, demand generation and risk communications, delivery strategies and vaccine safety monitoring. This support has continued as countries receive shipments of vaccine doses and begin their rollouts.

Rajwantee Lutchman, a registered nurse, administers COVID-19 vaccine to the recipient as part of a vaccination drill conducted on 6 March 2021 at the Siparia District Health Facility in Trinidad and Tobago. © WHO / Blink Media — Kibwe Brathwaite

It is estimated that the Americas will require vaccination of nearly one billion people in order to stop the spread of the virus. As the COVAX rollout continues and more countries in the region receive shipments of vaccine doses, PAHO will work alongside local health authorities, ensuring that every person who is willing and able to be vaccinated receives the required dose.

For over four decades the Americas has been a world leader in routine vaccination and mass vaccination campaigns against infectious diseases. Through PAHO and the COVAX Facility, their efforts will continue throughout the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Because we’re not safe until everyone is safe.

This story was first published on WHO’s website on 18 June 2021.