Controlling COVID-19 in the Americas could take years if current slow vaccination rate continues, warns PAHO director

In some countries 3% of the population has been vaccinated, and in others the figure is less than 1%.

paho.org – Washington, DC, June 9, 2021 (PAHO) – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne, called attention to the slow progress with which the vaccination rate against COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and warned that control of the virus could take years if current trends are maintained.

“Today we are seeing the emergence of two worlds: one that quickly returns to normal and another in which recovery remains in the distant future,” said Dr. Etienne today during the weekly PAHO briefing.

While the United States has fully vaccinated more than 40% of its population, he noted, the rate is much slower in Latin America and the Caribbean. Some countries, such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, have only vaccinated 3% of their population and others such as Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras, not even 1%.

In concrete numbers, less than 3 million people have completed their vaccination scheme in the Caribbean, while in Central America there are only 2 million.

“The inequalities in vaccination coverage are undeniable,” said the PAHO director. “Unfortunately, vaccine supply is concentrated in few countries while most of the world waits for doses to be distributed. Although COVID-19 vaccines are new, this story is not: inequality has too often dictated who has the right to health “.

He also added that “if current trends continue, health, social and economic disparities in the region will further increase, and it could be years before we can control this virus in the Americas.”

Dr. Etienne called for “urgently” expanding access to vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean and giving priority to countries where “even vulnerable populations are not yet protected.” He urged countries rich in vaccines and resources to follow the example of the United States, which made an initial donation of 6 million doses; Spain, which contributed 5 million, and Canada, which pledged to contribute 50 million Canadian dollars to expand access to vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We hope that other countries – especially those with dose surpluses – and global financial institutions, will follow these same steps to provide the support we need to protect the 70% of our population that will not be covered by COVAX,” he stressed. referring to the global alliance to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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Meanwhile, said Dr. Etienne, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean must adhere to proven public health measures, such as the use of masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing. He also urged putting “strong surveillance systems” in place backed by regular testing and contact tracing.

“This will continue to be essential to control this virus even as vaccine coverage is expanded and cases decline,” he said.

Regarding the current epidemiological situation of the pandemic in the region, the Director of PAHO warned that deteriorating conditions continue in Latin America and the Caribbean. “The trends we are seeing are clear: Across the region, this year has been worse than last. In many places, infections are higher now than at any time during this pandemic.”

Dr. Etienne said that in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago reported the largest increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths last month. In Haiti, hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients put the country’s oxygen supplies to the test. In Costa Rica, infections are declining after weeks of acceleration, but other Central American countries, including Panama and Guatemala, are reporting the increase in new cases.

Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru reported a decline in cases, but most South American countries – including Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile – reported an increase in infections. Both cases and deaths have increased in Bolivia and Colombia over the past two weeks, and in many Colombian cities intensive care unit (ICU) beds are almost at capacity. 

Across the Americas, including North America, there were nearly 1.2 million new COVID-19 cases last week and more than 34,000 deaths. Four of the five countries with the highest number of deaths in the world are in the Americas. 

“Despite the fact that hospital beds have doubled – or even tripled – throughout the region, ICU beds are at full capacity, oxygen is running low and health personnel are overwhelmed,” he lamented.

Source: https://www.paho.org 

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