Feb. 1 (UPI) -- A World Health Organization-led initiative to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines has informed three dozen countries in the Americas of the number of doses they should expect and when they should receive them.
The Pan American Health Organization announced Sunday that the COVAX mechanism has notified the health authorities in 36 countries and territories in the Americas of the estimated number of AstraZeneca vaccine doses they should receive between the second half of this month and the second half of the year.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is still under review for emergency use approval by the WHO but the organization said 35.3 million doses of the drug will be arriving to these countries in the first stage of shipments.
Among the nations to receive a letter are some of the worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Peru, all of which are among the top 20 countries for coronavirus cases.
Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador and Peru will also receive a combined 377,910 doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, which are expected to arrive the middle of this month, it said.
"With more than 45 million confirmed cases and more than 1 million deaths, countries and territories throughout the Americas, particularly the poorest among them, are experiencing an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis," PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne said in a statement. "The start of vaccine delivery through the COVAX mechanism is a hopeful step in the fight against this virus and PAHO is proud to facilitate an effort that is urgently needed for our region."
Those countries participating in the COVAX initiative were previously instructed to prepare to receive and distribute the doses, PAHO said.
The WHO health body for the Americas said an estimated 500 million people in the region will need to be immunized to control the pandemic.
A total of 37 Latin American and Caribbean countries will receive vaccines under the COVAX project, 27 of which will do so with their own financing and 10 at no cost due to their economic condition or population size, it said.
"The use of these vaccines will allow us to advance in the fight to confront this pandemic, but we must still maintain and strengthen public health measures -- such as the use of masks, avoiding crowds, social distancing and frequent hand washing -- to prevent transmission, increased cases and death from COVID-19," PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said in a statement.