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COVID-19 vaccines (Photo: GIS Barbados)

ECLAC calls for regional strategy for producing, distributing vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines (Photo: GIS Barbados)

LATIN America and the Caribbean can and should become actors in the development and production of new vaccines in the framework of a regional health strategy, says executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Alicia Bárcena.

“Why did this pandemic catch us at such a bad time? Because we import everything. That is part of the problem. Our national and regional industry produces generic drugs, but not innovative medicines. We have very low investment in research and development, which we must boost,” she said during the XXI Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States held recently.

Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean Alicia Bárcena (Photo: ECLAC)

Bárcena underscored that the health care manufacturing industry in the region is marked by a low level of technological development and high dependence on the production of multinational companies and imports. She added that in 2019 imports doubled the amount of exports, with the deficit exceeding US$20 billion.

Consequently, she further addressed the priority actions to be taken for the Comprehensive Plan for Health Self-Sufficiency — a programmatic blueprint being developed by the ECLAC to strengthen the production and distribution of medicines, particularly vaccines, in the region, and for reducing external dependence.

“Why did this pandemic catch us at such a bad time? Because we import everything. That is part of the problem. Our national and regional industry produces generic drugs, but not innovative medicines”

— Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

This includes joint purchasing by public health systems, consortiums for financing research and production, clinical trial platforms, intellectual property, an inventory of regional capacities, regulatory standards, the development of regional suppliers, and universal access to vaccination and primary health care.

She pointed out the unequal access to vaccines, specifying the asymmetries within the region and those in relation to the rest of the world. She noted that in Latin America and the Caribbean just 16.8 per cent of the population have completed the full vaccination scheme, while in the US and Canada that figure rises to 49.3 per cent of the population, with a surplus of vaccines. Meanwhile, Europe has 44.6 per cent of its population vaccinated.

Bárcena added, “We are concerned that some countries’ acquisitions exceed their vaccination needs. The European Union, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Japan account for 43.9 per cent of purchase commitments, with just 12.9 per cent of the global population [residing in those countries].”