Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa Wednesday urged G20 leaders meeting this coming weekend at Rome's Summit to donate more COVID-19 vaccines because the region's improvements in the fight against the disease were shadowed by steps backward in the most impoverished territories and Caribbean Islands.
Barbosa also said public health was taking centre stage at the COP26, this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference summit. The conference is scheduled to begin on Sunday in Glasgow.
While the disease is slowing down, some countries are increasing their vaccination rates while others are falling behind. Barbosa Wednesday said over 800,000 new infections and 18,000 deaths had been reported during the past seven days, a significant decrease from previous weeks. “We have reason to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant,” Barbosa said during a regular virtual news briefing.
Many Caribbean islands, including Cuba, have shown a downward trend in COVID-19 cases amid increasing vaccination. But PAHO insisted gaps remained from one country to another regarding vaccination rates. Contrary to the region's momentum, smaller islands, such as Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Anguilla and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are reaching their first pandemic peaks and are reporting their highest numbers of new infections and deaths.
Barbosa underscored the importance of governments keeping up their public health measures, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting large gatherings, as vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine movements, fueled by misinformation, remained a persistent challenge in the region. Nearly 44% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated, Barbosa explained. But with more than half of the region still not jabbed, inequalities continue to be one of the biggest challenges for PAHO, he added.
Chile, Uruguay and Canada have fully injected three-quarters of their population. But in Guatemala, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Haiti that number falls sharply to a meager 20% or less, Barbosa added.
More than one million doses were expected to arrive in the region this week through the COVAX vaccine sharing program, and other batches were due before the end of the year.
Barbosa said climate change and public health were connected as people keep dying from diseases associated with environmental risk factors, he said. “Ahead of the Summit, PAHO has launched an Agenda for the Americas on Health, Environment, and Climate Change that offers countries a plan of action to reduce the burden of environmental risks on the health of our region,” Barbosa said.