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PAHO urges countries to ‘get vaccines into arms’ as soon as they arrive

By Orville Williams

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As vaccination programmes seem to be stalling in countries like Antigua and Barbuda, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging officials to try to get the vaccines into the arms of residents as soon as they are received.

PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, made that call during the body’s weekly media briefing, while speaking about the fact some countries are still suffering from vaccine shortages.

Antigua and Barbuda was among the first group of countries to receive vaccines this year, initially via donations – which have continued since – and then by way of the COVAX mechanism.

At this point, health officials have a variety of vaccines at their disposal, including a batch of single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine that arrived in recent days.

The country’s vaccination figures were soaring at the very start of the public inoculation programme, but tapered off soon after and are still some way off the herd immunity goal, despite the relative abundance of available vaccine doses.

In a nod, perhaps, to the mantra that ‘the best vaccine is the one that is available’, Dr Etienne bemoaned the fact some countries were still finding it difficult to get vaccines for their populations, while others have them in abundance.

“We need countries to ensure that vaccines are in arms as soon as they arrive.

“As [countries] receive more vaccines and in larger shipments, [they] must ensure the logistics systems can absorb those doses and that the cold chain is assured all along the way.

“It also means hiring and training more health workers to deliver these vaccines and organising communication campaigns, so people have all the information that they need so they know when and where to get vaccinated,” she explained.

Based on reports from the Health Ministry, the transport and distribution of vaccines in Antigua and Barbuda have progressed without significant hindrances. However, the latter two points of advice from the PAHO director continue to be works in progress.

More healthcare workers have had to be trained in administering some of the vaccines, most recently the Sputnik V, before those particular doses could be introduced into the vaccination programme.

Similarly, health officials have admitted that vaccine education efforts have not been consistent over the past few months, even attributing that to the slowdown in vaccinations.

As the country continues to battle a quickly worsening Covid outbreak, officials will certainly hope that more residents will come out to get the vaccine doses into their arms sooner rather than later.

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