Posted: Saturday, June 12, 2021. 8:58 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: This week, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne called attention to the slow rate of COVID-19 vaccination in Latin America and the Caribbean and warned that controlling the virus will take years if current trends persist.
As she explained at her weekly briefing, there is an emergence of two worlds: one quickly returning to normal, like the United States, which has fully vaccinated more than 40 percent of its population; and countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia – have vaccinated only about 3 percent of their populations, where recovery remains a distant future.
In Central America, only 2 million people have been fully vaccinated; in the Caribbean, less than 3 million. In some countries, including Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras, not even 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
“The inequities in vaccination coverage are undeniable,” Dr Etienne said. “Unfortunately, vaccine supply is concentrated in a few nations while most of the world waits for doses to trickle out. Although COVID-19 vaccines are new, this story isn’t—inequality has too often dictated who has the right to health.”
She added, “If current trends continue, the health, social and economic disparities in our region will grow even larger, and it will be years before we control this virus in the Americas.”
Dr. Etienne called for “urgently” ramping up access to vaccines in Latin America and the Caribbean and prioritizing countries where “even vulnerable populations have yet to be protected.” She urged vaccine- and resource-rich countries to follow the leads of the United States, which donated an initial 6 million doses, Spain, which contributed 5 million, and Canada, which committed $50 million Canadian dollars to expand vaccine access in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We hope other countries – particularly those with excess doses – and global financial institutions will follow in their footsteps to provide the support we need to protect the 70% of our population that will not be covered under COVAX,” she said, referring to the global alliance to ensure equal access to COVID-19 vaccines.
In the meantime, Dr. Etienne said, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean should adhere to proven public health measures such as wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing. She also urged implementation of “strong surveillance systems” supported by regular testing and contact tracing. “This will remain critical to controlling this virus even as vaccine coverage expands and cases drop.”
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