Unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines is creating an epidemiological gap in the Americas

In countries with poor access to COVID-19 vaccines, such as Haiti or Honduras, the pandemic is expanding. © UNICEF / Manuel Moreno Gonza

Geneva, Jul 21 (UNNEWS) – The trend of the pandemic shows a clear division in the American continent caused by access to vaccines.

“In countries with an adequate supply of vaccines, infections are decreasing; in places where vaccination coverage is still low, infections are still high, “said the director of the Pan American Health Organization.

Carissa F. Etienne explained that COVID-19 cases are consistently declining in Costa Rica, where nearly one in three people are vaccinated. South American countries with the highest vaccination rates, such as Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, also report a sharp decline in cases, as do Canada and most of the United States.

However, in Latin America and the Caribbean in general, only 15% of the population has completed their vaccination schedule, and some countries, such as Honduras and Haiti, have not yet reached 1%, he said.

Cases on the rise in Central America and the Caribbean

With its low vaccination rate, Honduras is seeing an increase in cases along its border with Guatemala. COVID-19 infections are increasing in most Central American countries, and Guatemala has numerous cases and hospitalizations.

In the Caribbean, both cases and deaths from COVID-19 are increasing in Cuba, where the situation is especially serious in the province of Matanzas, according to Dr. Etienne.

Other smaller islands are also seeing an increase in infections, such as Martinique, where cases have tripled. Likewise, foci persist in the Amazonian states of Colombia and Peru.

“These trends illustrate how COVID-19 continues to be embedded in our region, especially in countries with low vaccination coverage,” stressed the director of the UN agency.

He then reiterated that public health measures, such as physical distancing, the use of masks and avoiding crowds, as well as infection control through testing, contact tracing and quarantines, remain vital.

In total, in the last week, the Americas as a region reported more than 967,000 thousand new cases and 22,000 deaths, which reflects a slight decrease compared to the previous week.

In the world, cases can exceed 200 million in August

The number of accumulated cases of coronavirus in the world may exceed 200 million in August, according to the latest forecasts from the World Health Organization.

At the current rate of infections, global cases will exceed that figure in three weeks, says the Organization in its epidemiological update. In the last week (July 12-18) 3.4 million new cases were reported, an increase of 12% compared to the previous week.

After a steady decline for more than two months, the number of weekly deaths reported was similar to the previous week, with almost 57,000. The total number of fatalities from the pandemic exceeds four million.

The countries with the most new cases were Indonesia (350,273 new cases; 44% increase), the United Kingdom (296,447 new cases; 41% increase), Brazil (287,610 new cases; 14% decrease), India (268,843 cases new cases; 8% decrease) and the United States (216,433 new cases; 68% increase).

Tracking Variants in the Americas Region

On the other hand, he reported that the Regional Network for Genomic Surveillance of COVID-19, with just over a year in operation, “closely follows” the appearance and spread of variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus throughout the region.

“The network has been instrumental in monitoring the spread of the virus in border areas and among travelers, who are often the first to introduce variants to a country,” said Dr. Etienne.

So far, 47 countries and territories in the Americas have detected at least one variant of the virus of greatest concern and 11 have detected all four: alpha, beta, gamma and delta.

Dr. Etienne explained that the Network began as a handful of public health laboratories in 2020, including the regional sequencing laboratories Fundación Oswaldo Cruz / FIOCRUZ in Brazil and the Instituto de Salud Pública de Chile (ISPCH), both of which carry out sequencing. for countries without local capacity.

Subsequently, the Network has grown to include 24 laboratories in total, including four additional reference laboratories: the Institute for Epidemiological Diagnosis and Reference (INDRE) of Mexico, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States. , the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Gorgas Institute in Panama.

The Power of Pan Americanism

Together, and using science as a common language, the countries committed to strengthening their laboratory capacity, recruiting staff and making surveillance a priority, building on the legacy of laboratory and surveillance networks for dengue and influenza. that have existed for a long time in our region, ”stressed the PAHO Director.

The UN agency supports this network by standardizing laboratory protocols, conducting training courses and donating supplies, among other aspects.

“The Regional Network for Genomic Surveillance of COVID-19 is an example of the power of Pan Americanism and the importance of working together to control this virus,” said Dr. Etienne.

“We must bring the same spirit of collaboration and solidarity to other dimensions of our response to COVID-19, especially with regard to vaccines,” he said.

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