by STAFF WRITER
April 20, 2022
WASHINGTON, Apr 20, CMC – The director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne Wednesday said while more than two-thirds of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, those who have not done so should get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“COVID-19 vaccines work and are very safe. They are protecting most people in our region from the worst consequences of COVID-19 infection,” the Dominican-born PAHO director told the weekly news conference.
She thanked healthcare workers, scientists, policymakers and individuals for ensuring that vaccines were made available to the region, noting that 14 countries and territories have already reached the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of their populations ahead of the June 30 target, and a further eight countries have reached over 60 per cent coverage.
She said as of this month, PAHO’s Revolving Fund has delivered more than 141 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in partnership with COVAX and with the support of donors.
However, while there are now sufficient supplies of COVID-19 vaccine to meet demand everywhere in the Americas, some countries continue to lag behind.
In the Caribbean, less than 30 per cent of people have received their first vaccine in Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia, while in Latin America, Guatemala, Guyana and Paraguay, those countries are yet to reach 50 per cent coverage.
PAHO said it is now working with countries to provide technical assistance to vaccination campaigns, as well as planning and communications support to help close the gaps.
But Dr. Etienne said that individuals also have a role to play.
“Vaccination is a family affair, and it’s up to all of us to make sure our loved ones are protected. If you or a family member have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, talk to your healthcare provider about your questions and doubts,” she added.
Dr. Etienne also urged countries to integrate their COVID-19 vaccination efforts into routine immunization campaigns. This will enable pregnant women to get their COVID vaccine alongside their flu shot and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines, and will also allow parents to get their shot while their children get protected against diseases like measles and polio.
Similarly, the emergency infrastructure that was set up to get COVID-19 vaccines into arms as quickly as possible should also be leveraged to improve routine vaccination uptake, making it “more convenient and accessible for families to catch up on all their shots at once,” said the Director.
Dr. Etienne said that the COVID vaccination effort “has shown us that success is possible when countries and people work together to embrace vaccines”.
Ahead of Vaccination Week in the Americas, which begins April 23, Dr. Etienne also called on countries to step up efforts to reach at least 70 per cent of their populations with COVID-19 vaccines.
Elderly people, those with pre-existing conditions, health care workers and pregnant women should be the primary focus of these campaigns as they are most at risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID.
“Let’s use our knowledge and perseverance to protect as many people, and save as many lives as possible,” she said.
PAHO said that while the number of COVID-19 infections reported in the Americas dropped by 2.3 per cent this week and continue to decline, cases did increase by 11.2 per cent in North America and have also spiked in the Caribbean.
The number of deaths has decreased by 15.2 per cent to to 4,797, with Dr. Eitenne saying it shows that vaccines are working well to protect people from hospitalization and death.