AS COVID-19 cases continue to wane in the Caribbean, Pan American Health Organization officials have revealed 48 percent of the region has been fully immunised against the deadly disease.
This news was announced at the organization’s weekly webinar by PAHO’s Director Dr Carissa Etienne.
Whereas The Bahamas is experiencing a welcomed decrease in reported cases, health officials here are cautious of a possible fourth wave.
“After two consecutive months of decline, COVID infections are increasing in some countries in the Americas,” she said. “Over the last week, 700,000 new cases and 13,000 COVID-related deaths were reported in our region.
“In the Caribbean, while Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico have reported decreases in new infections, cases are rising in the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. The Cayman Islands and Dominica are also experiencing a high number of cases.
“The good news is that vaccinations continue to pick up pace in our region. Forty-eight percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully immunised against COVID. But coverage is still much lower in some countries and territories.”
The director updated reporters on regional vaccine coverage and assistance given to countries that are in need of delivered vaccines.
“In Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Guatemala, less than one in five people have been protected,” Dr Etienne said. “In Nicaragua, coverage remains in the single digits and in Haiti, less than one percent of people have been fully vaccinated. This inequity must be addressed.
“PAHO is committed to helping countries in our region secure the vaccines they need to protect their people, through donations, via COVAX and through direct procurement.
“We’re already working with manufacturers to secure additional doses on behalf of our region. PAHO has signed supply agreements with three manufacturers of WHO EUL listed vaccines and it is in final negotiation with a fourth supplier, a mRNA vaccine producer, to expand vaccine options for our countries in 2021 and 2022,” she said.
PAHO has invited its member states to join this initiative using the Revolving Fund, its established and proven mechanism for equitable access to vaccine supplies, guided by evidence-based recommendations.
“With an eye on the future, we’re working directly with public institutions and private companies in Argentina and Brazil to strengthen their capacity to develop and produce COVID mRNA vaccines in our region that will benefit all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Dr Etienne said.
“This is a strategic and long-term project to reduce our vulnerability and dependence by establishing regional capacity for this innovative technology. In the future, this can also help us combat other viral diseases of importance in the region.”
PAHO has partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to analyse the region’s manufacturing potential with the hope of strengthening its role at every step of the supply chain to reduce its current reliance on pharmaceutical imports.
Although PAHO has good news for the region with COVID immunisations on the rise and cases on the decline, the organisation still reports that there are many in the region with little to no access to vaccinations.
“Too many people in our region remain vulnerable and don’t have access to the vaccines they need,” Dr Etienne said. “Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen how the health of our populations, the state of our economies and the wellbeing of our society are interconnected.
“That’s why today I want to talk about the importance of resilient health systems that can help our economies and our societies recover from this pandemic.”
Dr Etienne spoke to the disruptions in healthcare caused by COVID-19.
“Health systems have been weakened by the pandemic,” she said. “As countries worked to quickly build up ICUs and ramp up hospital services to care for COVID patients, other essential health services suffered.
“More than half of countries in our region reported disruptions to mental health services and routine immunisation programmes. Reproductive health services, nutrition care and support for managing chronic conditions were interrupted in more than 40 percent of countries.
“These services have one thing in common: they’re offered at the first level of care.”
She said primary care is the backbone of health systems.