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Dr Carisa Etienne

Bavita Gopaulchan

Countries across the Caribbean region are being urged to employ public health restrictions to curb the surging COVID-19 pandemic.

The call was made by the director of the Pan American Health Organisation Dr Carisa Etienne, who warned that COVID-19 vaccine deliveries have been slowing down.

“I cannot stress this enough – for most countries, vaccines are not going to stop this wave of the pandemic,” Etienne said during her weekly media briefing.

“There are simply not enough of them available to protect everyone in the countries at greatest risk. Therefore, we need to stop transmission by any means possible with the tools we have at hand,” she added.

According to Etienne, since March, PAHO’s Revolving Fund has helped deliver more than three million doses of COVAX-procured vaccines to 28 countries.

The Revolving Fund negotiates, purchases and arranges logistics for the shipment of vaccines to the 36 countries that participate in COVAX.

So far in the Americas, more than 247 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, including through deals countries made individually with vaccine producers.

However, Etienne said in the past few weeks constraints on producers of COVAX vaccines have slowed deliveries, and supplies are not expected to normalise for a few more weeks.

“PAHO is committed to working with Member States to secure more vaccine doses for our region as soon as they are available to complement what countries have already purchased via bilateral deals and through the COVAX Facility,” she said.

Etienne cautioned that the pandemic continues to surge across the Americas. She said in the past week, more than 1.3 million people were infected with the virus and nearly 36,000 people died from the disease.

“We are not acting like a region in the midst of a worsening outbreak,” Etienne stated.

She added, “Despite ongoing transmission in many places, restrictions have relaxed. Crowds are back, and people are gathering indoors and taking public transportation, often without masks”.

She said new, highly transmissible variants are also fuelling acceleration.

Etienne also provided reassurance about the safety of the four vaccines authorized by WHO – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Janssen vaccine.

She stated that all have proven to be safe and effective. She said the reports of blood clots are under review by regulatory agencies, which are expected to make recommendations soon.

The PAHO Director also addressed the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

According to her, PAHO has deployed five public health experts to respond to the emergency as well as 150,000 medical masks, other personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and test kits have been shipped to the islands.