Coronavirus
CARIB | Jun 10, 2021

Vaccine inequity a challenge to COVID-19 eradication – PAHO

Juanique Tennant

Juanique Tennant / Our Today

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Dr Carissa Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). Etienne also serves as and World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for the Americas. (Photo: CARICOM.org)

As vaccine inequity continues to pose major challenges for global efforts towards coronavirus eradication, Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne is calling for urgent access to vaccines, to be made for vulnerable populations within Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to Etienne who spoke on Wednesday (June 9) during a weekly press briefing, “Today we’re seeing the emergence of two worlds: one quickly returning to normal, and another where recovery remains a distant future.”

Referencing the United States who has fully vaccinated more than 40 per cent of its population, Etienne noted that the pace of vaccinations due to limited vaccine access has been much slower in Latin America and the Caribbean; With some countries such as Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia only vaccinating approximately three per cent of their country’s populations.

Given this, the PAHO director argued that while “COVID-19 vaccines are new…” the story of inequality in health care is not.

Ethiopian Airlines staff unload AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines under the COVAX scheme against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from a cargo plane at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 7, 2021. (File Photo: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)

She stated that for far too long, “inequality…has dictated who has the right to health…(and) if current trends continue, the health, social and economic disparities in our region will grow even larger, and it will be years before we control this virus in the Americas”.

As a result of this, Etienne called for urgent action as it relates to vaccine accessibility in Latin America and the Caribbean, giving priority to countries where “even vulnerable populations have yet to be protected.”

In closing, she urged vaccine- and resource-rich countries to follow the leads of the United States, which donated an initial six million doses, Spain, which contributed five million doses, and Canada, which committed $50 million Canadian dollars to expand vaccine access in the region.

“We hope other countries – particularly those with excess doses – and global financial institutions will follow in their footsteps to provide the support we need to protect the 70 per cent of our population that will not be covered under COVAX,” said Etienne.

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