PAHO Deputy Director Jarbas Barbosa said on Wednesday that the Americas had reported more than 800,000 new infections and 18,000 deaths in the past seven days – a drastic decrease from previous weeks.
“We have reason to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant,” Barbosa said during a regular virtual press briefing.
Many Caribbean islands are seeing a decrease in new infections, Barbosa said, including Cuba, a country that had battled an intense outbreak of the disease for months.
The downward trend in COVID-19 infections comes amid the progress of vaccination campaigns in the region. But, PAHO officials said, gaps remain and many countries in particular, those with low immunization rates, remain at risk of further epidemics.
Smaller islands, such as Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Anguilla and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are reaching their first pandemic peaks and reporting their highest number of new infections and deaths.
That is why, Barbosa warned, it remains essential that countries continue to implement public health measures, such as mask wearing, social distancing and restrictions on large gatherings.
On Wednesday, the White House said 15 million Americans had so far received booster shots, as the country continues to roll out a program to improve protection against the virus nationwide.
In the United States, 69% of American adults are fully vaccinated, according to the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 is also imminent, pending clearance from the country’s Food and Drug Administration. A CDC advisory group is expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss the matter. Some states, said Jeff Zeints, the White House coronavirus coordinator, have already placed initial dose orders.
During the regular COVID briefing, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were all down since early September. Yet, on average, 1,160 people die from the disease each day in the United States.
“We are now moving in the right direction,” Walensky said at the briefing, “but with cases still high we need to be vigilant as the colder and drier winter months approach. “
Meanwhile, nearly 44 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully immunized, PAHO said.
But with more than half of the region still unprotected, vaccine inequity remains one of the biggest challenges, Barbosa said.
Chile, Uruguay and Canada have made considerable progress in their vaccination campaigns and have fully protected three quarters of their populations against the disease. Meanwhile, Guatemala, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Haiti have vaccinated less than 20 percent of their population, he said.
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Barbosa said more than a million doses are expected to arrive in the region this week as part of the COVAX vaccine sharing program, and more vaccine deliveries are expected to arrive until the end of the year.
But many more doses are urgently needed to protect more people in the region from the disease.
Barbosa appealed to G20 leaders who are meeting in Rome for a summit this weekend, urging them to donate additional vaccines. He added that no country is truly immune from further spread of the virus, while others are still unprotected.
He also said that public health is central to COP26, the summit of the United Nations Climate Change Conference this year. The conference is due to start on Sunday in the Scottish capital, Glasgow.
Barbosa said climate and public health are linked. And more than 12 million people each die from diseases associated with environmental risk factors, he said.
“Prior to the Summit, PAHO launched a Program for the Americas on Health, Environment and Climate Change which provides countries with a plan of action to reduce the burden of environmental risks on the health of our region,” Barbosa said.