(Updates with PAHO director quotes, background on COVAX, regional coronavirus situation)
MEXICO CITY, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Countries participating in the COVAX coronavirus vaccine distribution mechanism will soon receive confirmation of their first shipments but should expect them to be small due to limited global supplies, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
Nations waiting on doses from the COVAX program, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance to support poorer countries, can expect a timeline and information on dose amounts in “the next days and weeks,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a virtual briefing.
About 160 million doses would be distributed in the region in the first six months with doses ramping up monthly, Etienne said, adding that a global squeeze on supplies meant initial shipments would be limited.
“Rest assured, PAHO is doing everything it can to expand vaccine availability and to get vaccines out quickly,” Etienne said.
The WHO’s emergency use authorization for the AstraZeneca /Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine from two manufacturers on Monday was a “critical milestone,” Etienne said. Officials are planning to distribute more than 300 million doses of the vaccine to 145 countries through COVAX.
About 63 million people had so far been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Americas, but that number would need to increase to 700 million in order for the region to achieve 70% inoculation, officials said.
“We urge ministries of health, regulatory agencies, and other officials to review requirements for each COVAX vaccine to avoid delays in shipments,” Etienne said.
There were 1.2 million new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 39,000 related deaths in the last week, a 10% drop from recent weeks. Across North America and Central America, new infections were declining, with the exception of Honduras, Etienne said, which has consistently reported a rise in infections in 2021.
Reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by Bill Berkrot