Rising Rates of COVID-19 Infection in Parts of Latin America, While Haiti Has Not Yet Started Vaccinations
PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne

Though the Americas is the only World Health Organization (WHO) region that is reporting a slight decline in new COVID-19 cases this week, countries in Central and South America, Canada and Mexico are still experiencing rising rates of infection. 

Over 1.1 million new COVID-19 cases were reported in the Americas over the last week, officials from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced at a press briefing on Wednesday. 

The Central American countries of Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama, and South America’s Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, are also reporting high numbers of new cases.  

In North America, while overall trends are declining, cases are rising in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, and Canada’s Yukon province in Canada. 

Brazil in particular has reported almost 19 million cases and more than half a million deaths due to COVID-19 over the course of its 15-month state of emergency, with an average of more than 49,000 cases and 1500 deaths over the last seven days. 

Cuba is reporting the highest number of new cases per week since the beginning of the pandemic, and Trinidad and Tobago are facing increased mortality due to COVID-19. 

“This is a clear sign that the toll of the pandemic in the Americas continues to devastate families and communities, even as parts of our region are experiencing some relief,” said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne. 

Deaths in Latin America remain the highest per capita, even with global declines. 

Majority of Vaccinations Administered in the United States

While one in four people are fully immunized against COVID-19 in the Americas and over 600 million doses have been administered in the region, over half of these shots have been given to the United States. 

“We must celebrate a nation that has been so heavily impacted by the pandemic, was able to turn the tide,” said Etienne. 

Chile and Canada have also been leaders in their vaccination programs, fully vaccinating over 50% and 30% of their populations, respectively. 

Nursing technician Vanda Ortega, indigenous to the Witoto people, was the first person to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil, on January 18, 2021.
There is still a sharp divide in access to COVID-19 vaccines across the Americas.

Though PAHO officials praised some countries for their “remarkable job” in administering doses, there remain other countries in the region where vaccination has yet to even begin.

Haiti has not administered a single vaccine dose, while Jamaica is also struggling to access enough vaccines to cover high priority groups. Some countries in South and Central America, where the pandemic has hit particularly hard, have not been able to access enough vaccines to fully vaccinate even 3% of their populations.   

“We can’t close our eyes to the stark inequalities of vaccine access in several countries,” noted Etienne. “It is not a time to roll out boosters when millions have yet to receive one dose.” 

Etienne urged countries and governments globally to continue their donations. 

“The vaccines that we have at hand do work remarkably well and will help us overcome the pandemic, but only if we take this opportunity to address the challenges that have held us back, especially the pervasive inequality in access to health care. Broad vaccine access must be the first step in the process.” 

This week, El Salvador welcomed 1.5 million new vaccine doses from the US government, as part of its pledge to share at least 20 million doses with the WHO-cosponsored COVAX global vaccine facility

Japan will also be donating over 11 million doses through COVAX. Gavi, also co-sponsoring COVAX, has received tremendous support from Japan, with the country pledging a total of US $1 billion to COVAX

PAHO Reaffirms COVID-19 Support of Haiti Following Assassination its President

Assassinated: Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Etienne offered her condolences and expressed solidarity with the Haitian people following the Wednesday morning assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise during an attack on his private residence.

She reaffirmed PAHO’s support of Haiti during these “uncertain times” and said the organisation would continue to help control the spread of COVID-19 and work towards vaccinating its people.  

Haiti has been prioritized to receive vaccines from COVAX because of the deadly wave that has been hitting the country, with sharply escalating cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in recent weeks. 

However, it is the only country in the Americas participating in COVAX that hasn’t received any vaccines.

A shipment of 132,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses from COVAX is scheduled to arrive in Haiti later this month and the US plans to deliver doses in the near future.

‘False Sense of Security’ From COVID Travel Certificates

Dr. Ciro Ugarte, Director of Health Emergencies, PAHO

Though countries are easing their travel restrictions and reopening borders, and with complications arising from the European Union’s new COVID ‘Green Pass’,  PAHO officials still advised travellers to continue to take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.  

“Even people who are completely vaccinated still have a risk of becoming infected and transmitting the disease, so a passport that verifies the vaccination or some proof can create a false sense of security,” said PAHO Director of Health Emergencies Ciro Ugarte. 

Ugarte also added that requiring proof of vaccination may exacerbate inequality between countries, as many countries still do not have sufficient access to vaccines.

This is seen with the EU Digital Green Pass, launched 1 July. Those vaccinated with an AstraZeneca vaccine “Covishield” produced by the Serum Institute of India – which includes most citizens of low- and middle-income countries who were immunized with vaccines distributed by the COVAX initiative – would not be qualified to get the pass. 

Image Credits: Flickr: IMF/Raphael Alves, PAHO, Tariq Nasheed/Twitter.

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