PAN American Health Organization (PAHO) director Dr Carissa Etienne is urging member countries to maintain coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols and safeguards, even as vaccinations get under way in a number of territories.
Speaking during PAHO’s recent COVID-19 digital briefing, Dr Etienne said that maintaining the measures is imperative, particularly against the background of increases in infections and deaths in several countries and especially in light of the upcoming Easter holidays, traditionally marked by heightened activities.
While acknowledging that cases were plateauing and declining in some regional states, Dr Etienne voiced concern that they were spiralling in others.
She described the latter scenario as an “active public health emergency” which indicates that “the COVID-19 virus is not receding, nor is the pandemic starting to go away”.
The director said that while the deployment of vaccines through the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility is under way, and all participating countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to receive their first shipments by early April, those allocations are not adequate to protect the vulnerable groups being initially targeted.
“Some countries… have received zero doses of vaccines through COVAX, thus far [while] other countries are getting enough to vaccinate a mere 20 per cent of their populations,” the director pointed out.
As such, Dr Etienne said the region remains “a very long way” from achieving the 70 per cent of countries’ populations being targeted for vaccination to control transmissions and attain herd immunity.
“Until we get more than 70 per cent of our populations vaccinated, we must endeavour to continue and practise the smart, effective and targeted public health measures and do what works … like the wearing of masks, frequent handwashing and sanitising, avoiding crowded places, physical distancing, and covering of our sneeze or coughs,” she emphasised.
The director urged member countries’ governments to ensure that these measures are effected and to be “cautious about lifting restrictions” as this could spur new increases and hospitalisations.
“Vaccines are coming, but they are still several months away for most people in our region. Until they arrive, we need to continue the course, not let our guards down, and follow the guidance of [our] local health authorities,” Dr Etienne added.