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Regional health chief calls for “intensified” public health interventions against COVID-19 

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Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2021. 4:27 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Citing incongruent public policy and relaxed approaches to control measures, Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa F. Etienne said during a briefing that the region is not doing enough to combat COVID-19 and must intensify public health interventions on social distancing, limiting gatherings, wearing masks, and hand washing. 

Etienne warned, “I am particularly concerned for the next few weeks. Throughout our region, especially in North and South America, many hospitals are operating at or very close to capacity.” She further cited high occupancy rates of intensive care units, oxygen shortages in some areas, and lack of capacity to cope with the speed of new infections due to the “sustained boom in cases.” 

Last week’s tally of more than 2.5 million new cases in the region is more than half of all reported global infections, and 42,000 more have died. 

Etienne noted that not enough is known about the effect of vaccines recently released as there are not enough doses out to achieve a visible impact on transmission in the short term. But her organization, she added, is working to help countries prepare to vaccinate their populations and is supporting the COVAX mechanism to make vaccines available in all countries in the Americas. The PAHO Revolving Fund “will play a key role in this process,” helping the countries acquire vaccines, syringes, cold chain equipment, and other supplies for vaccine delivery. 

National vaccine deployment plans have been prepared by 18 countries, and 23 countries have completed a Vaccine Readiness Assessment, Etienne explained. 

“For PAHO, a successful vaccine introduction must not simply be measured by its timeline but through the lens of fairness. We must not let vaccination campaigns fracture along the lines of inequity that have marked the health of our region,” she said. 

“Vaccine rollouts should prioritize those at risk – like the health workers at the frontlines of our response, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions. They should also prioritize disenfranchised populations that often struggle to access the care they need,” Etienne added. 

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