Health officials are buying millions of vaccines for Latin America

The Pan American Health Organization has reached an agreement with Chinese manufacturer Sinovac to buy millions of COVID-19 vaccines for Latin American and Caribbean countries to take more pictures in a region where access is highly unequal.

The agency, which is part of the World Health Organization, is in talks with two other manufacturers and hopes to announce new deals soon, said its deputy director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, at a press conference on Wednesday.

He said Sinovac offered to sell 8.5 million cans this year and another 8 million in 2022. Countries in the region that want the vaccine must buy them from health organizations.

“This is a purchase, not a donation,” said Dr. Barbosa, noted that the Inter-American Development Bank provides loans to countries that need them.

Direct orders begin at a time when, on average, only 35% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, said agency director Carissa F. Etienne, noting that coverage was highly uneven.

While some countries, including Chile and Uruguay, have fully vaccinated more than 70 percent of their population, he said, others have still not reached 20 percent. These countries are: Bahamas, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela. Haiti is a very serious case, he said, with less than 1% of the population fully vaccinated.

The health organization is also working to expand vaccine production in the region, and announced last week that other facilities in Brazil and Argentina are receiving technical support to start producing vaccines for messenger RNA, Pfizer-BioNtech and those used in Modern Shot Types to begin with.

But right now, “Vaccine donations are the fastest way to support countries in our region,” said Dr. Etienne.

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