To help address unequal access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world — an issue that “remains the Achilles’ heel” of the pandemic fight — the World Health Organization is starting a program to manufacture vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, said Wednesday.
“Much of today’s vaccine supply remains in the hands of wealthy nations around the world,” she said. “We must expand regional pharmaceutical production so we can be in the driver’s seat.”
She said her organization, which is part of the W.H.O., was analyzing about 30 proposals to manufacture messenger RNA vaccines — the same type as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots — and expects to decide next month which ones to implement.
The “most feasible proposals,” including those that already have guaranteed investment backing, will get priority in an effort to expedite the project, according to Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, the pan-American agency’s assistant director.
“MRNA vaccines are some of the most effective vaccines against Covid-19, and the technology is highly adaptable, so it has enormous potential to be used against other viruses,” Dr. Etienne said.
Vaccines produced by the program are to be distributed to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where an average of only 23 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated so far. “In many countries coverage is much lower,” Dr. Etienne said. “Just over 3 percent of people have been vaccinated in Guatemala, and a little over 4 percent in Jamaica.”
Many islands in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, are reporting steep surges in new cases and Haiti’s health system is struggling to care for survivors of the devastating Aug. 14 earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.
“Logistics and security challenges continue to limit the delivery of supplies, the deployment of personnel to affected areas and the transfer of patients to other hospitals,” Dr. Etienne said.