Even though Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Carissa F. Etienne recently applauded the arrival of over 2.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines procured through COVAX, Etienne warned that the virus is still “surging dangerously in many countries in the region.”
In her weekly media brief yesterday, the official said one has to pay keen attention to the fact that the COVID-19 virus is not receding, nor is the pandemic starting to go away. While the vaccines are coming, the PAHO Director said they are still several months away for most people in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In the meantime, she urged all and sundry to continue to respect public health measures – wearing masks, hand washing, and social distancing – especially during upcoming holidays.
Further to this, the official was keen to note that there are not yet enough vaccines for everyone. As such, “We must find ways to share vaccines more equitably among countries.”
As the recognized procurement agent for COVAX in Latin America and the Caribbean, PAHO’s Revolving Fund negotiates, purchases and handles shipment logistics on behalf of the 36 countries participating in COVAX.
In the past week, over 1.2 million people were infected with COVID-19 in the Americas, more than during the previous week, while 31,272 people died of the virus, Dr Etienne reported.
The pandemic is particularly dire in South America, where the infection is reported to be spiking in Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. She said too, “The virus continues to surge dangerously across Brazil. Cases and deaths are increasing, and ICU bed occupancy is very high in many states.” In neighboring Venezuela, the Director noted that the infection is on the rise, particularly in the border states of Bolivar and Amazonas.
In the Caribbean, the official said that cases are increasing in Cuba, Aruba, Curacao, and Antigua and Barbuda. In Jamaica, she said that cases have risen steadily for several weeks.
The official said that the foregoing situation is representative of “an active public health emergency.” Dr Etienne said, “…We urgently need to scale up vaccination among our most vulnerable populations.”
To date, over 155.8 million doses of the vaccine, including the COVAX deliveries, have been rolled out in the Americas, and in the Caribbean and Latin America immunization campaigns are underway in 33 of the 35 countries with support from PAHO. The organization is also assisting the two countries, Haiti and Cuba that have yet to start immunization.
The official said, “The doses that were delivered are helping us start to protect health workers and other vulnerable communities, and we expect more doses to arrive every week. These WHO-approved vaccines are safe, and they work.” The Director concluded, “When it’s your turn, don’t hesitate. Get vaccinated.”