Resurgence in COVID Infections Across the Americas
PAHO Director Carissa Etienne

Though new COVID-19 cases are down nearly 20% from last week in the Americas, many countries are experiencing a resurgence in infections, officials from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced at a press briefing on Wednesday. 

Over 962,280 new cases were reported in the region in the past week, according to data from the WHO Epidemiological Update on COVID-19

The United States and Mexico, and many Central American nations, including El Salvador and Guatemala, are recording daily increases in new infections. 

Cuba has reported the highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic and cases have also tripled in the British Virgin Islands just weeks after reopening to cruise ships. The country also has one of the highest numbers of new cases per 100,000 population, with 2497 new cases per 100,000 people. 

South America is a “mixed picture” in terms of COVID, according to PAHO, as numbers are dropping for hospitalization and deaths in Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile – but infections are rising in Argentina and Colombia. 

“Cases rise when complacency sets in. We are all tired. We are experiencing successive peaks of infections in the same locations. We must break the cycle by embracing public health measures, early and consistently,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne implored. 

The region reported nearly 74 million cumulative COVID-19 cases and 1.9 million deaths from COVID this week. This accounts for more than a third of COVID cases, and more than 40% of deaths reported worldwide. 

Only 1 in 7 People Fully Vaccinated in Latin America

COVID vaccination in Brazil

Only 1 in 10 vaccines administered worldwide have been given in the Americas, and only 1 in 7 people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully protected, even with bilateral deals, COVAX deliveries, and recent donations from countries such as the US, said the PAHO Director. 

“Money, more than public health, has determined how quickly countries can secure the tools that they need to combat this virus. As countries that struck deals with vaccine manufacturers pull further ahead, vaccination coverage continues to linger in the single digits for much of our region,” said Etienne.

Chile has fully vaccinated nearly 58% of its population, Uruguay has vaccinated 55%, the US has vaccinated nearly half of its population, and Canada isn’t far behind.

But for other countries, the number of people vaccinated remains low. Paraguay and Jamaica have fully vaccinated only 3% of their people. Honduras and Guatemala have yet to protect even 1% of their population.

Urgent Need for Vaccine Sharing 

The US has already donated nearly 12 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries in the region, and Etienne urged more donors and countries to share them with the Americas, calling it the “only way for many countries in our region to secure the doses they need quickly.” 

“If we do not ensure a more equitable distribution of vaccines, not only in the north but also in the global south, COVID-19 could continue circulating for years to come,” warned Etienne. 

“It is the ongoing disparity in access to vaccines that continues to prevent [things from ever getting back to normal”, particularly given that despite best efforts from COVAX to secure doses, virtually all vaccines have been purchased by high-income countries.”

Many countries in the Americas have been hard-hit by hoarding of vaccines from high-income countries, making vaccine donations an “absolute lifeline.”

Etienne stressed that donations should be sent to countries with no vaccine coverage and high disease burden, as urgent priorities. 

“It is vital that we shift the conversation away from booster shots in ensuring that everyone, everywhere, and particularly healthcare workers and those most vulnerable to severe disease are protected first.” 

Cuban Vaccines an ‘Important Development’ for Latin America 

Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccines are seen as Latin America’s hope.

As of 10 July, 3,480,023 people, or 27% of Cuba’s total population, have received at least one dose of Cuba’s two vaccine candidates currently in late stages of research and development – Abdala and Soberana 2

Last month, Cuba announced that its three-dose Abdala vaccine was 92% effective against COVID-19, while its Soberana 2 vaccine was 62% effective with two doses, and efficacy was expected to rise with administration of the third dose.  

Assistant Director of PAHO Jarbas Barbosa called the Cuban vaccines an “important development” for other countries in Latin America.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is a very vulnerable region because we rely on empathy, not only for vaccines, but for medicines, for PPEs, for ventilators, all clinical supplies to face the pandemic.” 

For Cuba’s vaccines to be part of PAHO’s Revolving Fund, which provides access to vaccines at affordable prices for countries in the region, the vaccines must meet the criteria to be a part of the WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL)

Political Turmoil in Haiti Could Lead to Rise in Infections 

PAHO officials expressed their condolences following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse early Wednesday morning.

In the midst of political turmoil following the assassination of Haitain President Jovenel Moise last week, PAHO remains concerned about the growing violence, instability, and crowded shelters in the country, which could give rise to active COVID transmission.  

Many other countries in the region are also experiencing waves of protests due to COVID, from Colombia to Brazil, as well as Cuba. 

PAHO is closely coordinating with the government of Haiti, the government of the US, and with international partners on Haiti’s vaccination campaign, which still has yet to begin.

Haiti remains the only country in the Americas yet to receive any vaccines from COVAX

Pandemic is Fueling Inequality 

COVID cases are rising in Cuba, with the medical system in disarray.

More than 7 million companies have closed in Latin America and the Caribbean, and more than a third of people in the Americas are living in poverty, according to a new report released by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

This makes the Americas the most inequitable in the world, with the pandemic fueling inequality in the region, said Etienne.

“COVID-19 has not only ravaged health systems, it has fractured social protection programs and destabilized our economy.” 

Etienne urged countries to continue to prioritize health and social safety nets as part of their COVID-19 response. 

In highlighting the underinvestment of countries in their own health systems, Etienne called for countries to invest more in health, applying at least 6% of their GDP to health systems as they track their path to recovery.

“Health and well-being must be prerequisites for re-activating the economy in the context of COVID-19. Because if the pandemic is not brought under control, economic reactivation will be very difficult.”

Image Credits: BabaluBloggers/Twitter , PAHO, Flickr: IMF/ Raphael Alves, News Prensa Latina/Twitter, Tariq Nasheed/Twitter.

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