Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says the authorities in member countries must continue instituting all coronavirus (COVID-19) safeguards and protocols until an approved vaccine is available.

This comes against the background of the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the Americas, which she said has risen to nearly 13.5 million, with deaths climbing to over 460,000.

Speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Wednesday (September 2), Dr Etienne noted that medical experts globally “are working faster than ever to ensure that we have a safe [and] effective vaccine as soon as possible”.

“Indeed, many vaccines are now in phase-three clinical trials. So, we are hopeful that at least one or more of these will be effective in providing lasting protection against COVID-19… with few or no side effects,” she said.

Data from PAHO show that approximately 30 of more than 150 vaccines now under development are at the advanced clinical trial stage.

“Thanks to their (medical experts) efforts, we are hopeful that we will be able to reduce what’s often a very long process of years of research, development and regulatory approval… [and] that this can be done within a two-year time frame… or less,” Dr. Etienne said.

She pointed out, however, that “it is too soon to tell” and, as such, “we wait and we hope”.

The PAHO Director argued that “even when we have the vaccine, we will not be able to go back to normal… at least not immediately… since vaccinating an entire population may take some time”.

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“So, for some time, countries will have to continue to test, isolate and treat patients, trace their contacts and institute containment measures from time to time, to avoid a resurgence,” she said.

Additionally, Dr. Etienne said it is incumbent on individuals to adhere to the safeguards and protocols, “[including] keeping our physical distance, wearing a mask, washing hands regularly, and coughing safely away from others”.

“Without doubt, we are facing a unique challenge with a new virus for which we do not yet have a vaccine. We are counting on getting a vaccine as soon as possible, so we can go back to our normal lives. But we need to continue to be patient and… follow the public [safety] measures,” she added.

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