Latin America and Caribbean Islands have vaccinated just 37% of populations against Covid, WHO officials say

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A maquiladora worker receives a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine at a Lear Corp. factory in Ciudad Jurez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on Tuesday August, 23, 2021.
Paul Ratje | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Just 37% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, almost half the rate of Canada as emerging economies struggle to access the life-saving shots, officials from the World Health Organization’s regional branch for the Americas said Wednesday.

An overall lack of vaccine availability is a main factor restricting immunization rates in both regions, Pan American Health Organization Director Dr. Carissa Etienne said at a briefing. Disparities in vaccine distribution are especially stark in Jamaica, Nicaragua and Haiti where Etienne said less than 10% of the population has received a full series of Covid doses.

“We must focus our attention to close this gap as quickly as possible,” Etienne said. “In just the past week, 875,000 vaccine doses arrived in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, but we know these are not enough to protect everyone.”

“So we continue to urge countries with surplus doses to share theirs with countries in our region, where they can have life-saving impact,” she added.

Canada, Chile and Uruguay have each fully vaccinated over 70% of their population against Covid, while nations including Argentina, Ecuador, Panama and the U.S. report vaccination rates of 50% or more, according to Our World in Data, which compiles vaccination figures from official public reports. But at least 10 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean have vaccinated less than 25% of their population, including Guatemala, Venezuela and Honduras.

Current estimates indicate Haiti has fully immunized less than 1% of its population.

In addition to inequities in access, vaccine hesitancy is also suppressing vaccination rates across Latin America and the Caribbean, Etienne said. She called for vaccine distributors to bring doses directly to communities, transportation to vaccination clinics and clearer communication on the safety and effectiveness of current vaccine options.

“While we still face a shortage of vaccines in many of our countries, what we are saying is that in some areas, even when vaccines are available, persons are not coming forward,” Etienne said. “In many settings, vaccine hesitancy is assumed to be the cause of low uptake of vaccines.”

“But on closer study, we see the greater importance of other factors, such as accessibility, availability and quality of services,” Etienne noted.

Etienne’s comments came as the organization announced new details on its vaccine distribution agreements with manufacturers Sinovac, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca. PAHO will procure approximately 18.5 million doses from Sinovac and AstraZeneca this year, but officials are still negotiating how many vaccines will be delivered in 2022.

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