By Aaron Humes: The Americas cannot ignore the risk of further COVID-19 surges, warns Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne as she urged countries to remain vigilant and urgently close vaccination gaps.
Cases of COVID-19 are surging in Europe and East Asia due to Omicron BA.2, and while overall new cases and deaths have dropped across most of the Americas, there are still more than 620 thousand new cases each week and in parts of North America and the Caribbean, where Omicron is becoming the predominant variant, new infections are beginning to rise.
Omicron BA.2 has already been detected in 8.7 percent of sequences reported from South America, and the Director noted that “time and time again, we’ve seen how the infection dynamics in Europe are mirrored here just a few weeks later,” but we now “know what it takes to protect our people.”
However, with 240 million people in the Americas yet to receive a single shot of COVID-19 vaccine, vaccination gaps “will keep our region at risk during future waves.”
While more than 685 million people in the region have completed their COVID vaccination schedules, and 50 countries and territories have already begun to deliver booster doses, we must now “redouble our efforts to ensure that our vulnerable populations receive the doses they need,” as soon as possible, Dr Etienne said.
The PAHO Director also urged countries to keep testing capacity in place “so we do not go into this next wave blind,” and have the full picture of Omicron BA.2 in the region – make tests available for everyone, everywhere.
Dr Etienne also warned that some countries and territories have scaled back public health measures prematurely, highlighting that data “is our eyes and ears into this pandemic.” “Just as we did before, we must adjust our strategies when cases rise, to save lives.”