Despite the arrival of over 2.2 million doses of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines procured through COVAX, the virus continues to surge dangerously in many countries in the Region.
This is according to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne, who during a press briefing on Tuesday (today), warned that the virus is not receding “nor is the pandemic starting to go away.”
COVAX, the global alliance to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, has assisted with the delivery of over 2.2 million doses to the Region to date, including more than one (1) million doses that arrived in hard-hit Brazil on Sunday.
More doses are expected to arrive this week in Suriname and Belize, and an additional 1.2 million doses have been procured through COVAX but the number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise.
Dr. Etienne implored that persons continue to respect public health measures – masks, hand washing, and social distancing – especially during upcoming holidays.
. “Vaccines are coming but they are still several months away for most people in our Region…People cannot let down their guard by engaging in close contact with others…although scale-up has begun, we know it’s not enough.”
She added that there are not enough vaccines available to protect everyone and that in the past week, over 1.2 million people were infected with COVID-19 in the Americas, more than during the previous week, while 31,272 people died of the virus.
“It’s what happens when the whole world must rely on too few manufacturers. We must also find ways to share vaccines more equitably among countries.”
As the recognized procurement agent for COVAX in Latin America and the Caribbean, PAHO’s Revolving Fund negotiates, purchases, and handles shipment logistics on behalf of the 36 countries participating in COVAX.
COVID-19 is reported to be spiking in Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay and in Paraguay a majority of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are already occupied while the health system there is buckling under the pressure,” Dr. Etienne said.
“The virus continues to surge dangerously across Brazil,” she continued. “Cases and deaths are increasing, and ICU bed occupancy is very high in many states.” In neighboring Venezuela, infection is on the rise, particularly in the border states of Bolivar and Amazonas. Bolivia has reported an increase in cases in the Pando department, while “ICU bed occupancy remains very high in Loreto, Peru.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc elsewhere in the Americas, including Guatemala, where increasing cases and hospitalizations are “straining hospital bed capacity due to the influx of patients,” Dr. Etienne said.
In the Caribbean, cases are increasing in Cuba, Aruba, Curacao, and Antigua and Barbuda, she said. In Jamaica, cases have risen steadily for several weeks. In Canada, Ontario state has reported increased cases in the last two weeks while the U.S. states of Minnesota and West Virginia have reported rising deaths.
“What I’ve just described is an active public health emergency,” Dr. Etienne said. “As the virus surges and hospitalizations rise,” she continued, “we urgently need to scale up vaccination among our most vulnerable populations.”
Over 155.8 million doses of the vaccine, including the COVAX deliveries, have been rolled out in the Americas, and in the Caribbean and Latin America, immunization campaigns are underway in 33 of the 35 countries that are members of PAHO. PAHO is assisting the two countries, Haiti and Cuba, that have yet to commence immunization.
“The doses that were delivered are helping us start to protect health workers and other vulnerable communities, and we expect more doses to arrive every week,” Dr. Etienne said, reporting that acceptance of vaccines has been high. “These WHO-approved vaccines are safe, and they work,” she said. “When it’s your turn, don’t hesitate. Get vaccinated.”