Image courtesy PAHO.

More than one million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have died from COVID-19, in what the Director of PAHO describes as a “tragic milestone”.

In an official statement issued today by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne is urging countries to focus on reducing COVID-19 transmission through proven public health measures, and she also called on the world to intensify efforts to improve the region’s access to vaccines.

“More than one million lives have been cut short because of COVID-19. This is a tragic milestone for everyone in the region,” said Dr. Etienne.

“This pandemic is far from over, and it is hitting Latin America and the Caribbean severely, affecting our health, our economies, and entire societies. Yet only about 3% of our citizens have been vaccinated,” she notes.

According to figures reported by countries as of May 21, 2021, 1,001,781 people have died as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost 89% of the deaths occurred in five countries: Brazil (44.3%), México (22.1%), Colombia (8.3%), Argentina (7.3) and Peru (6.7%). Three percent of the deaths were concentrated in Central America, and 1% in the Caribbean.

“The region is an epicentre for COVID-19 suffering. It should be an epicentre for vaccination, too,” Dr Etienne said.

More than 153.5 million people have been immunized in the Americas, but only 21.6% of these are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In contrast, in the United States, vaccination has been widespread, and marked improvements are already being observed.

DR CARISSA F. ETIENNE, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). (Image: PAHO)

Dr. Etienne pointed out that almost half of Americans have received at least one COVID vaccine dose, and nearly 85% of those over the age of 85 are fully protected.  The PAHO Director says the result has been a sharp reduction in COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations.

“The progress we’re seeing in the U.S. is a testament to the power of safe and effective COVID vaccines, but it underscores the vital importance of accelerating access to vaccines throughout our region, so that other countries can fully immunize their populations,” she stated. “We urgently need more vaccines for Latin America and the Caribbean, a region which has been sorely tested by this pandemic.”

She has congratulated countries that have indicated a willingness to donate tens of millions of excess vaccine doses and called on other countries to follow suit.

“We urge countries with extra doses to consider donating a significant portion of these to the Americas, where these life-saving doses are desperately needed and will be promptly used,” she said.

PAHO has delivered more than 12 million COVAX-procured vaccine doses to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Another 770,000 doses are on the way to Central American and Caribbean countries.

Dr Etienne also called on people to continue to observe public health measures including wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, and ventilating closed spaces when possible. She urged people to get vaccinated when called on by national governments, adding,

“Vaccines are safe and effective and a major tool to stop this pandemic.”