Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa has warned that although COVID-19 infections and deaths are declining in most of the Americas region, reports of too many deaths clearly indicate transmission is not yet under control.
According to Barbosa, as COVID-19 vaccination continues to expand in the Americas, countries must continue to focus on protecting the most vulnerable.
He mentioned the elderly, the immunocompromised, health care workers, and other high-risk groups.
Since the virus arrived in the Americas two years ago, countries have reported 149 million cases of COVID-19, and 2.6 million people have died.
The Assistant Director also warned that the current rise in cases in other world regions should serve as “a cautionary tale” for the Americas.
New infections have increased by 28.9% in the Western Pacific Region, 12.3% in the African region, and almost 2% in the European area.
“The virus puts us all at risk,” he added. “That’s why we must continue our efforts to close the equity gap and protect the most vulnerable with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Barbosa said that while many countries and territories are on track to reach the World Health Organization (WHO) 70% COVID-19 vaccination target, and eight have vaccinated more than 80% of their population, 21 have yet to vaccinate half of their people.
“We still have a lot of work ahead to improve our resilience to COVID-19,” he said.
Dr. Barbosa highlighted that pandemic response had left routine immunization programs decades behind – with coverage against polio and measles dropping to 1994 levels.
“COVID-19 showed us, once again, that vaccines are the most important tool to control infectious disease and save lives,” he said. “Yet in just two years, we’ve rolled back nearly three decades of progress on polio and measles.”
Vaccine coverage for other childhood diseases has also fallen further behind, with diphtheria and yellow fever threatening to resurge unless countries take urgent action, the Assistant Director warned.
HPV vaccination, which prevents cervical cancer in young women and girls, has also stalled due to school disruptions.