Vulnerable Populations In Region Still Unprotected Against COVID-19

(CMC) — While 63 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, coverage remains uneven, with 14 countries and territories immunising 70 per cent of their populations and the same number failing to reach even 40 per cent coverage, the Pan American Health Organization Director Dr Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday.

With seven million new infections and over 34,000 deaths reported in the region since last week, she highlighted “worrisome gaps” in the vaccination of at-risk populations — with some countries reporting lower coverage among the elderly compared to younger groups who are less at risk for severe disease.

Dr Etienne said the full extent of the disparity remains unknown, as detailed data is limited, so it is vital that “countries collect and report data showing vaccination coverage by age, sex or by risk group”.

“These data are crucial to designing targeted vaccination campaigns, maximising the impact of vaccine doses and saving lives,” she said at PAHO’s weekly briefing.

Looking towards upcoming COVID vaccination campaigns, the director announced that vaccine supplies are expected to pick up in 2022.

Thanking donors that already helped the region secure doses when supply was limited, she said further donations from the United States, Spain, Canada, Germany, France and other countries total some 26 million doses.

PAHO’s Revolving Fund, which has so far purchased almost 100 million doses, is also on track to obtain a further 200 million doses on behalf of the region this year.

As these doses arrive, Dr Etienne urged countries to start making the necessary preparations for vaccine roll-out, including investing in vaccination programs, collecting and reporting detailed vaccine data, and prioritising high-risk groups.

“Countries should refocus their efforts in protecting health workers, immunocompromised individuals and the elderly, first,” the top PAHO official said.

She also sent a special message to the millions of adults in the Caribbean who have yet to receive their vaccines.

“I am a medical doctor, wife, mother and grandmother. I could not wait to get my vaccination, I was so anxious for the wellbeing of myself and my 95-year old mother,” Dr Etienne said.

“Please don’t delay, get vaccinated today. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and they’re the best way to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from this virus.”

Turning to the COVID-19 situation in the region, the director reported that the rise in infections appears to be slowing down in places hit earliest by the Omicron variant.

In the Caribbean, deaths have more than doubled in Cuba, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda, while other islands, including Martinique and Guadeloupe, are seeing the virus spread rapidly among young and unvaccinated populations.

“These trends show that we must continue to sustain every part of our COVID response,” Dr Etienne said. “Vaccinations, testing, and continuing public health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing remain crucial.”