As the national picture of the pandemic grows grim, so is the regional overview with upwards of a million new cases of COVID-19 in the past week and several thousand fatalities. It’s a situation that concerns the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and today during a press briefing, the organization’s Director Doctor Carissa Etienne says that part of the challenges that face the region is political instability and inequality.
Dr.Carissa F.Etienne, Director of PAHO: “Over the last week the Americas have reported over 1.6 million new cases and just under 22,000 COVID-19 related deaths. COVID infections are surging in North America where hospitalization rates among young people and adults below the age of fifty are higher today than at any other point in the pandemic. In the Caribbean St.Lucia and Puerto Rico are reporting high rates of new infections and Jamaica is seeing it’s highest ever COVID deaths as it’s hospitals reach full capacity. Outbreaks are also accelerating in multiple Central American countries especially Costa Rica and Belize. In South America infections are generally declining with a few exceptions. In Venezuela cases are plateauing and in Suriname transmission has increased for four consecutive weeks. When you look across the regions of the world the Americas remain disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We are home to four of the top ten countries with the highest number of cumulative cases and nearly a third of all COVID deaths have been reported in the region. Despite this disproportionate impact three fourths of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have not been fully immunized and for many vaccines remain months away. While every country in our region has begun administering COVID-19 vaccines immunizations are following the fault lines of inequality that have long divided our region “
Dr Etienne added that the pace in which vaccines are produced and communication challenges faced by regional governments have slowed the rate in which the jab is being administered, and calls for an adjustment in strategy.
Dr.Carissa F.Etienne, Director of PAHO: “Delays in production, export bans and limited vaccine supplies have meant that many countries are still awaiting the doses they expected months ago. More than a third of the countries in our region have yet to vaccinated 20% of their populations and in some places coverage is much lower. Vaccination rates remain in the teens in several Caribbean and South American countries and coverage is still in the single digits in Central American nations like Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Not to mention Haiti and Venezuela where fragile health systems and political challenges have further delayed immunizations. We need to deliver an additional 540 million doses to ensure that every country in the Americas can cover at least 60% of their population. So we must expand vaccine access in our region especially in the places that are lagging behind.”
Also an issue discussed today was whether it’s time for the booster shot. PAHO’s Assistant Director Doctor Jarbas Barbosa indicated that larger, developed countries should prioritise sharing excess doses with countries that are lacking.
Doctor Jarbas Barbosa, Assistant Director, PAHO: “We cannot have a world where some countries are discussing with limited scientific evidence so far a third dose while in many other countries people are struggling to have the first dose and to complete the vaccination. But I insist it’s not only an ethical and moral problem it is also a public health problem because the best public health response is to protect everybody everywhere. This is the way that we can control the transmission that we can prevent other variants to emerge to challenge all the advancements that you have already achieved. So it’s very important from an ethical and moral but also from a public health perspective to increase the access for the vaccines in every country in the world.”
Director Dr Etienne said that the region’s best option is to take advantage of the doses we have right now.