PAHO says region's low vaccination rates, relaxed measures threaten COVID-19 progressFriday, November 26, 2021
BY ALPHEA SUMNER
THE Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is worried that measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been lifted or are being relaxed in many densely populated areas of the region, even though vaccination numbers remain low.
“This is a worrisome combination that keeps us vulnerable to the virus and threatens our hard-fought gains. With the approaching holidays and upcoming summer vacations in the southern hemisphere, I wish to take a moment to remind everyone that our individual and collective decisions chart the path of this pandemic. We have been there before,” PAHO Director Dr Carissa F Etienne warned at the agency's virtual media briefing on Wednesday.Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a recent announcement of further relaxation of spread-prevention measures, including event gathering limits and curfew times, put the country on notice that there would be no returning to lockdowns as Jamaicans must now embrace living with the novel coronavirus as an endemic virus.According to PAHO, over the last week the region experienced a 23 per cent jump in new cases with 880,583 new COVID-19 infections and more than 15,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
Most new cases occurred in the United States and Canada while Central America saw a 37 per cent reduction in new infections. In South America, every country except Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela is reporting increasing COVID-19 incidence.
In the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing its highest-ever COVID-19 rates and at least five of its hospitals are at over 80 per cent capacity. Barbados, Cayman Islands, and Dominican Republic are also reporting high rates of new infections.
“These trends are telling. Even though COVID cases have dropped significantly over the last few months, COVID transmission is still active across our region – so every time we lower our guard, the virus gains momentum,” Dr Etienne said.Further, 51 per cent of people across Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but 19 countries in the region have not reached the WHO targets to vaccinate 40 per cent of the region's population by the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by mid-2022.
The PAHO director further mentioned that the region needs to pay close attention to infection trends in Europe, where in many cases public health measures have been relaxed — though pockets of unvaccinated people remain despite substantial coverage — creating fodder for the virus to spread.
“The future is unfolding before us, and it must be a wake-up call for our region because we are even more vulnerable,” Dr Etienne said while cautioning against complacency and stressing that individual decisions made over the next few months will determine the course of COVID-19 in 2022.“We've already faced the consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic and we don't want to be in that position again. As we enter the time of year for reflection and celebration, give a gift to your friends and family by getting vaccinated when it's your turn,” she urged.Moreover, Dr Etienne advised people to keep gatherings small during holiday family meet-ups, and to stay outdoors as much as possible. She also stressed the importance of vaccination as it relates to travelling. “For anyone who is planning to pack their bags, please get vaccinated before you leave. And don't forget to wear a mask during your trip and follow the public health guidance at your destination,” she said.