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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) preaches continued COVID-19 vigilance

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Posted: Friday, March 5, 2021. 3:16 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Pan American region faces a rise of cases in several areas that threatens to undo the accomplishments elsewhere, warned Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne, making it imperative that the region catch up to the rest of the world in vaccination.

At a press briefing, Dr. Etienne cited the situation in Peru’s Amazonian state of Loreto, where every ICU bed is occupied by a COVID patient; Colombia’s state of Amazonas, which is reporting the country’s highest COVID rates, and Brazil, where the Amazonian state of Acre faces an emergency due to a deadly combination of COVID-19 infections, a dengue epidemic, and flooding in several cities.

Other hotspots include El Salvador, the indigenous province of Guna Yala in Panama, and Guatemala’s northern municipalities; the region accounted for 55% of deaths reported worldwide – approximately 34 thousand – and 1.1 million infected, pushing the cumulative figure to 51 million infections.

For this reason, “Expanding equitable access to COVID vaccines in the Americas must be a global priority,” she asserted. “Wealthy countries are rolling out vaccines, while many nations have yet to receive a single dose,” she continued. “This disparity harms our principles of solidarity. But more than that, it’s a self-defeating strategy. As long as COVID-19 endures in one part of the world, the rest of the world can never be safe.”

The good news is that elsewhere in South America, where infections continue to drop. The U.S., Mexico and Canada report continued to decline, while every country in Central America is seeing a drop in cases. In the Caribbean, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos are reporting declines in both COVID-19 cases and deaths, following the enforcement of stricter public health measures.

Colombia this past Monday became the first of 36 countries to receive vaccines through COVAX, the only global mechanism working to ensure equitable access to vaccines, regardless of countries’ incomes. In COVAX’s “First Wave” shipment, 117,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota.

Ten COVAX participants are Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries that will receive COVID-19 vaccines free of cost, while the rest are self-financing. Dr. Etienne reported that COVAX told participating countries that a total of 28.7 million doses of vaccines would be delivered by May 2021, the first shipments likely to arrive in mid-March.

“As more doses are produced, we’ll see several waves of shipments arriving in the region every month. In the short term, doses will remain limited. And we must use them wisely, prioritizing those most at risk, like our health workers, the elderly, and people living with pre-existing conditions,” Dr. Etienne concluded.

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