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Pan American Health Organization says more access to vaccines needed to combat new COVID-19 variants

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2021. 7:03 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne has called for more vigilance as a new round of variant COVID-19 intensifies the need to access vaccines to protect the world population.

20 countries are yet to reach the WHO’s year-end vaccination target of 40 percent, and the Omicron variant has now been detected in six countries in the region.

Over 782,655 new COVID infections and 10,950 deaths were reported in the Americas last week, yet just 55 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated. In some countries, including Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, coverage remains much lower.

While the region is “racing to get people protected from this virus,” the PAHO Director called for a long-term strategy that takes into account the duration of protection of the vaccines, their impact on different age groups, and the behavior of new variants.

With 1.6 million doses of COVID vaccine arriving in the region this week and more expected to follow, it is crucial that “vulnerable groups like our indigenous peoples, the elderly, and those with existing conditions that leave them at higher risk of severe COVID should be first in line,” Dr. Etienne said.

However, in countries with high overall coverage, rates of vaccination among people over the age of 60 remain lower. And in countries where vaccination is further behind, healthy people are also being protected first. “This lack of prioritization is perilous because it keeps our elderly vulnerable and our health systems at risk,” the Director added.

As the year draws to a close and countries deploy doses to reach the WHO’s year-end targets, the Director called for equity and preparedness.

“We need a reliable supply of doses so that our COVID vaccination campaigns do not widen the inequities that have long divided our region,” she said.

Over the past week, COVID cases have increased in Canada and parts of Mexico, as well as in the South American countries of Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. In the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago continues to experience jumps in COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Other smaller islands like the Cayman Islands are also witnessing increases in COVID infections.

With the exception of Panama, Central America including Belize is experiencing a decline in infections, and drops are also being seen in Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina.


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