THE Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is reporting that only a quarter of citizens in the Caribbean and Latin America are fully immunised, and that for many access to vaccines is still months away.
“While every country in our region has begun administering COVID-19 vaccines, immunisations are following the fault lines of inequality that have long divided our region,” PAHO director Dr Carissa F Etienne said at the organisation’s weekly briefing, yesterday.
She noted that in countries that were able to secure deals with manufacturers, vaccination campaigns have been steady, and coverage continues to increase, with over 60 per cent of people fully vaccinated in Canada, Chile, and Uruguay, and over half of the US population having received the full course of vaccinations.
However, she said coverage has suffered in the region due to delays in production, export bans and limited vaccine supplies, leaving countries still awaiting the doses they expected months ago.
“More than a third of countries in our region have yet to vaccinate 20 per cent of their populations. And in some places, coverage is much lower. Vaccination rates remain in the teens in several Caribbean and South American countries and coverage is still in the single digits in Central American nations like Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Not to mention Haiti and Venezuela, where fragile health systems and political challenges have further delayed immunisations,” Dr Etienne said.She stressed that an additional 540 million doses of vaccines were needed to be delivered in order to ensure that every country in the region can cover at least 60 per cent of their population. Dr Etienne outlined that one of the main avenues to accelerate vaccine coverage in the region is more vaccine donations.
“We urge countries around the world with excess doses to quickly share these with our region, where they will have life-saving impact. As we continue to face delays in vaccine production, donations remain the best and fastest way to get vaccines out to more people. Today, some countries are already rolling out boosters to vaccinated persons even as most people in our region have yet to receive a single dose,” she lamented.
Dr Etienne said countries everywhere must be reminded that the best way to protect against variants of the novel coronavirus, such as the Delta, is to ensure more people are fully vaccinated everywhere.
In the meantime, she said the region’s best option is to make the most of available doses now.She urged countries to deliver vaccines as soon as they arrive. “While countries are administering doses quickly, this is just the beginning. As they receive more – and larger – shipments, countries must ensure logistics systems can absorb these doses and the cold chain is assured,” she stated.
This means hiring and training more health workers to deliver these vaccines and organising communications campaigns to give populations the information they need so they know when and where to get vaccinated. Over the past week, more than 1.6 million new cases of COVID-19, and 22,000 related deaths were reported in the region. As of yesterday, Jamaica had 68,482 accumulative confirmed cases, 712 people hospitalised from the disease, and 1,549 deaths.