Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne applauded the arrival of over 2.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines procured through COVAX but warned that the virus is surging dangerously in many countries in the region.
In the Caribbean, cases are increasing in Cuba, Aruba, Curacao, and Antigua and Barbuda, she said. In Jamaica, cases have risen steadily for several weeks.
“What I’ve just described is an active public health emergency,” Dr. Etienne said. “As the virus surges and hospitalizations rise,” she continued, “we urgently need to scale up vaccination among our most vulnerable populations.”
Over 155.8 million doses of the vaccine, including the COVAX deliveries, have been rolled out in the Americas, and in the Caribbean and Latin America, immunization campaigns are underway in 33 of the 35 countries that are members of PAHO. PAHO is assisting the two countries, Haiti and Cuba, that have yet to start immunization.
“The doses that were delivered are helping us start to protect health workers and other vulnerable communities, and we expect more doses to arrive every week,” Dr. Etienne said, reporting that acceptance of vaccines has been high. “These WHO-approved vaccines are safe, and they work,” she said. “When it’s your turn, don’t hesitate. Get vaccinated.”
Pointing out the Americas’ long history of successful immunization against polio, measles, flu, and yellow fever, she said, “once our supply increases, there is not another region in the world better prepared to deliver vaccines swiftly and safely.” “Our health workers have special expertise driving large-scale vaccination campaigns that cover diverse geographies.”
The pandemic is accelerating elsewhere in the Americas, including Guatemala, where increasing cases and hospitalizations are “straining hospital bed capacity due to the influx of patients,” Dr. Etienne said.