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Health

Latin Americans seek more time to join COVAX vaccine facility

FILE PHOTO: Small bottles labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe are seen in this illustration taken taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

BRASILIA/GENEVA (Reuters) - A group of Central and Latin American countries have informed the World Health Organization (WHO) they intend to request more time to sign up for its global COVID-19 vaccine facility known as COVAX, according to a diplomat and a WHO official.

Countries have until midnight on Friday to formalize legally-binding commitments to COVAX, a mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual vaccines.

Warning that “vaccine nationalism” will undermine efforts to fight the pandemic, the WHO has urged governments to join the mechanism. The request for a delay is the latest sign of reticence after key member France said it would not use it to source shots, undermining WHO efforts to get broad buy-in.

The requests for an extension to the deadline will be sent directly to the GAVI Alliance, which is the COVAX secretariat, said the official at the Pan-American Health Organization, which is the WHO’s regional branch for the Americas.

A diplomat in Geneva said the request had been submitted in the form of a letter on Friday and sought a one-month extension. The diplomat did not give details of the reason for the delay.

He said that the dozen countries who made the request were: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay and Dominican Republic.

A representative for GAVI said by email that details of which nations joined COVAX will only be made public after the deadline. The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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