75% population in Caribbean, Latin America not fully vaccinated: PAHO

PAHO warns that 75% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Caribbean: Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) warns that 75% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean have not yet been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and reports that PAHO is seeking its access to vaccines to expand throughout the region.

“Three-quarters of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean are not fully immunized,” Dr Etienne said during her weekly media briefing. “More than a third of the countries in our region still have to vaccinate 20% of their population. And in some places the coverage is much lower.”

“Vaccination rates continue to remain in the teens in several countries in the Caribbean and South America, and coverage is still in the single digits in Central American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua,” she said.

In Haiti and Venezuela, fragile health systems and political challenges have further delayed vaccinations. “Unfortunately, countries with high coverage are the exception in our region,” she stressed.

Dr Etienne said a total of 540 million vaccine doses for COVID-19 should be delivered to ensure that all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean can cover at least 60% of their populations. “We therefore need to expand access to vaccines in our region, especially in the places that are left behind,” she said.

In response to the shortage, PAHO has launched a new campaign for donations. “We are working to draw the attention of developed countries to the urgent need to donate vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean,” Etienne said.

In addition, PAHO uses its Revolving Fund to procure vaccines for member states. PAHO has already received requests from 24 countries for COVID-19 vaccines, which will be available in the last quarter of this year and in 2022.

“We are also thinking ahead and making plans to improve the production capacity of the local vaccine significantly,” said Dr. Etienne. “Last week, we launched a new platform that brings partners together on a shared vision to promote the latest vaccine production in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The first initiative under the platform is to facilitate the transfer to the field of the mRNA vaccine technology used in highly effective COVID-19 vaccines. PAHO has received 32 proposals from private and public enterprises wishing to participate in the endeavour.

Dr Etienne has encouraged countries to prioritize the most vulnerable to vaccination, such as the elderly, health workers and those living under existing conditions. Countries need to make sure that logistics systems can absorb vaccine doses and keep cold chains cool and that health systems are ready to deliver doses quickly once they arrive.