BOGOTA (Reuters) – The Americas are facing a pandemic of the unvaccinated, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, as it warned that countries with low inoculation rates are seeing increases in COVID-19 and repeated a call for vaccine donations.
“We face a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and the only way to stop it is to expand vaccination,” PAHO director Carissa Etienne said at a weekly briefing. “Vaccines are critical, even if no vaccine is 100% effective.”
Just 15 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated, she said, adding that figure obscures that some countries like Honduras and Haiti have yet to reach even 1% inoculation.
Etienne reiterated a call for countries with enough doses to distribute them as quickly as possible to needy countries.
“We clearly need more vaccines and we need them now,” she said. “At this time vaccine donations are really the only way for many countries in our region to secure the doses that they need quickly.”
“Please don’t wait until you have surplus doses. You need to share out of what you have now,” Etienne said.
The start of vaccinations in Haiti – which has plunged deeper into turmoil following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise – highlights how ready countries are to receive donations of shots, she added.
The COVAX mechanism will send 3.7 million more vaccine doses to countries in the region through the end of July, PAHO subdirector Jarbas Barbosa said.
PAHO is working closely with the United States to overcome logistical challenges for delivery of donations, he added.
The Americas reported 967,000 new cases and 22,000 deaths last week, Etienne said, a slight weekly decrease.
Cases are accelerating in much of Central America and on smaller Caribbean islands, she said, while cases and deaths are spiking in Cuba and hot spots persist in Amazonian regions of Colombia and Peru.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)