Dr Sylvain Aldighieri

[email protected]

As several Caribbean countries battle their highest rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says 29 per cent of the Caricom population is at a higher risk of developing severe strains of the disease.

It is a consequence of these Caricom citizens having at least one underlying health condition.

At the PAHO’s weekly press briefing on COVID-19 in the Americas yesterday, Incident Manager for COVID-19, Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, said the data shows that comorbidities are a factor associated with severity. He said based on studies, PAHO knows that 22 per cent or approximately 145 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have underlying health conditions.

“Regarding the Caribbean countries that are part of the Caribbean Community: Caricom, where we have observed the highest prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus and chronic kidney disease, the estimation of the Pan American Health Organization, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is that we have up to 29 per cent of the population with at least one underlying condition, therefore, being at risk for severe COVID-19. Therefore, for Latin America and for the Caribbean, you would clearly understand the core messages of PAHO regarding vaccination for people with comorbidities,” Aldighieri said.

Over the last week, the Americas reported its lowest COVID-19 figures in over a year, with 800,000 new cases and 18,000 related deaths.

“We have reason to be optimistic but we must remain vigilant,” Assistant Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa said.

New infections and deaths are decreasing across North, Central and South America, except Belize and Paraguay, which experienced a rise in cases. While many of the Caribbean’s larger islands are experiencing a downward trend, smaller islands like St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Anguilla and St Vincent and the Grenadines are now reporting their highest number of infections and related deaths.

Barbosa said it was therefore critical that countries continue to implement public health measures like mask-wearing, social distancing and limits on gatherings, especially as many countries struggle to expand vaccine coverage.

While coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean increased to 44 per cent, it still means that more than half of the regional population is unvaccinated. There remains disparity among countries, as Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua have vaccinated less than 20 per cent of their populations. Barbosa said the good news was that the COVAX Facility would deliver over 3 million doses to the region this week.

In the United States, advisory boards to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended low doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday for children ages five and over.

It followed Pfizer’s requests for authorisation and both regulatory agencies should make a final decision soon.

Barbosa said PAHO follows the recommendations of the World Health Authority. He said if the FDA and CDC approve Pfizer, this would be a sovereign decision, which PAHO would not support or criticise.