Latin America Sees Continued COVID Surges – Despite Declines In North America And Globally 
WHO PAHO Regional Director Dr Carissa Etienne has called for vaccine access to be ramped up in the Americas to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Although the pace of new COVID-19 infections is slowing down across North America, cases continue to rise in Latin America. Surges in COVID-related deaths and infections in some countries are even higher now than at any point during this pandemic, says the WHO Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Last week, the region reported more than 1.2 million new COVID-19 cases and nearly 34,000 COVID related deaths. Four of the five countries with the highest death counts in the world were located in the Americas. 

“This year has been worse than last year,” said PAHO Regional Director Carissa Etienne at a briefing on Wednesday. The emergence of new variants of the coronavirus has added new complexities to epidemiological surveillance, and access to COVID19 vaccines needs to be expedited, she added.

Countries in the Caribbean, such as Trinidad and Tobago, reported their largest-ever spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths over the past month. 

Panama, Guatemala, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile have also reported a rise in new cases.

In contrast, in Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, and Costa Rica, the rate of new cases was slowing down, along with key states in the United States and Mexico, as well as some provinces in Canada.  

Globally, Latin America has become the world’s COVID hotspot, with a new wave of rising COVID cases peaking at 300 cases per million people this past weekend. This is currently more than three times the number of new cases being seen by hard-hit India, five times that of Europe and six times higher than the global average. 

Though vaccines will eventually curb the spread of the virus, access to vaccines and necessary equipment furthers inequality between countries in the region. 

“[We are] seeing the emergence of two worlds. One is quickly returning to normal and another where recovery remains in the distant future, and the differences are stark,” said Etienne.  

Vaccination ‘Trickles Down’ Inequitably to High-Risk Countries 

The United States is the only country in the region where more than 40% of its population is fully vaccinated.  While a handful of Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have managed to get first jabs into the arms of some 20- 58 % of their population, others lag far behind. For instance, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, have so far only managed to vaccinate only 3% of their populations.

Etienne also noted that the situation is “particularly acute” in Central America and the Caribbean. Just 2 million people have been fully vaccinated in Central America, and less than 3 million vaccinated in the Caribbean. 

Some countries like Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras have yet to administer enough doses to protect just 1% of the population.

“The inequities in vaccination coverage are undeniable,” Etienne pointed out, adding that vaccine supply is concentrated in a few nations, while most of the world waits for doses to trickle down.

“Though COVID-19 vaccines are new, this story isn’t. Inequality has too often dictated who has the right to health. We can’t let this happen again.” 

Vaccine Access Needs to be Ramped Up in Region

PAHO Regional Director Carissa Etienne welcomed recent announcements of vaccine donations from the US as well as Spain, but urged other countries to donate surplus vaccine doses to Latin America and not hoard the life-saving vaccines in “warehouses” .

The PAHO Regional Director called for vaccine access to be ramped up in the Americas, as the countries at greatest risk were the ones where vaccines have been the slowest to arrive and where vulnerable populations have yet to be protected. 

The United States government has recently donated an initial 6 million doses to countries in Latin America. Spain has also donated 5 million doses to Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Canada has committed $CAD 50 million to expand vaccines in the Latin American region. 

Etienne hoped that other countries, particularly those with excess doses, and global financial institutions, will follow in the footsteps of these countries in order to protect 70% of the population in the region. 

Driving Down Transmission Despite Increased Travel Between and Within Countries 

Traveler screening for coronavirus at Bogota, Colombia Airport – UN News/Laura Quinones

In addition to ramping up vaccinations, Etienne urged the Americas to do “everything that we can to drive down transmission”.

Despite the skyrocketing numbers, people are steadily increasing their movement and travelling within and between countries, with Etienne urging the region’s population to make responsible decisions.

If current trends continue, the health, social, and economic disparities in our region will grow even larger and it will be years before we control this virus in the Americas,” she warned: “But by working together we can limit the spread of COVID-19 and we can move closer to a more equal world.”

Self-Sufficiency for Vaccine and Health Supply Manufacturing Needed


While vaccine donations from other countries will be beneficial in the ‘short term’, said Etienne, the only way to achieve supply security is when manufacturing capacity is expanded in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The trade imbalance for the pharmaceutical sector in the Americas is striking. In 2018, Latin America and the Caribbean imported 10 times more health technologies, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and equipment and supplies than exported. 

“This inability to have sufficient production has made us more vulnerable during the pandemic,” said Etienne, though she added that the region does have the capabilities to expand its production and manufacturing. 

“We are not starting from scratch. Our region does have established capacity for manufacturing vaccines across several countries.” 

Scaled-up vaccine and equipment manufacturing was seen in diseases such as yellow fever, meningitis, and influenza.

The region also has strong regulatory networks, agencies, and harmonization, which are key to guarantee the quality and safety of vaccines, build production, and work towards self-sufficiency. 

Etienne advocated for investment from within the region, as well as support of international partners, in addressing the self-sufficiency of health technologies in the future. 

“It is only this long term investment that will ensure we have the vaccines needed to curb this pandemic, and [also to ensure] that we will have the necessary essential medicines [and sufficient equipment and supplies] to deal with a whole range of illnesses that threaten our population.”

Image Credits: WHO PAHO.

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