COVID vaccine inequity persists in Americas, PAHO warns

The Pan American Health Organization says less than half of people in the Americas are fully vaccinated.

Whereas several countries in the Americas including Chile, Uruguay, Canada and the United States have so far vaccinated the majority of their adult populations, poorer nations in the region are still far behind [Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

Following two consecutive months of decline, COVID-19 infections are rising again in some countries in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has said, cautioning that uneven vaccination rates across the region continue to be a problem.

During a weekly news briefing on Wednesday, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said Colombia, Bolivia as well as the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados are seeing increases in coronavirus cases in some places.

Concerns have been rising that despite sustained progress in vaccination rates, uneven access to jabs, persistent vaccine hesitancy, and the continued threat of the contagious Delta variant could spur new infections.

But Etienne said the “good news” is that vaccination rates have continued to pick up pace, with 48 percent of people in the Americas now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Pan American Health Organization says the Americas region saw 700,000 new COVID-19 cases and 13,000 deaths over the past week [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

Whereas Chile, Uruguay, Canada and the United States have so far vaccinated the majority of their respective adult populations, poorer nations in the region are still far behind.

Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Guatemala have so far vaccinated fewer than 1 in 5 people, Etienne said.

“In Nicaragua, coverage remains in the single digits and in Haiti, less than 1 percent of people have been fully vaccinated,” she told reporters. “This inequity must be addressed.”

In order to tackle the problem of vaccine access, she said PAHO plans to work with state institutions and private companies in Argentina and Brazil to build those nations’ capacities to develop and produce vaccines for the entire region.

The Americas region recorded 700,000 new cases and 13,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus over the past week, Etienne also said.

Meanwhile, some regions of the US are also seeing a rise in infection rates even as case numbers have receded in other areas.

The states of California, Colorado, Alaska, Montana and New Mexico are seeing rising COVID-19 cases, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

US officials say the increase in COVID-19 infections may be linked to the virus circulating among children, who returned to in-person learning this year in many places, and declining resistance among adults as vaccine protections fade.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious disease expert, said the Delta variant accounts for 99 percent of new cases but that public health officials continue to watch for the emergence of any new variants.

The US is administering an average of 800,000 booster jabs per day across the country, while over the past week it also began vaccinating millions of children aged five to 11 at pediatric offices and specialised mobile sites.

Getting newly eligible adolescents and younger children vaccinated “will very much help us in preventing some of these surges that you’re hearing about”, Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said at a White House media briefing on Wednesday.

Jeff Zeints, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said 900,000 children have already received their first jab.

Source: Al Jazeera