COVID-19 infections dropping throughout the Americas, more vaccine needed, says health agency

BRASILIA, Oct 6 (Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 infections has been dropping over the past month throughout the Americas, even though only 37% of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

In the last week, 1.2 million people were confirmed with COVID-19 in the region, down from 1.5 million new cases the previous week.

Alaska has the most serious current outbreak in the United States, overwhelming emergency rooms, and Mexico is reporting a jump in new cases, the health agency said.

And while South America is continuing to see a drop in infections, Chile has had a surge in cases in the capital Santiago and port cities Coquimbo and Antofagasta.

PAHO also said it has closed vaccine supply agreements with Sinovac Biotech Inc (SVA.O) and AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) for the delivery of 8.5 million doses this year, and with China’s Sinopharm Group (1099.HK) for next year.

Jamaica, Nicaragua and Haiti have yet to reach even 10% vaccination coverage, PAHO said.

“We must focus our attention to close this gap as quickly as possible,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told reporters in a weekly briefing in which she urged countries with surplus vaccine doses to share them with countries in the region to save lives.

PAHO is doing all it can to speed up vaccination in the region, by delivering doses through COVAX – the World Health Organization co-led vaccine access program – by supporting donations and by direct purchases of vaccines through its revolving fund, Etienne said.

In the past week, 875,000 vaccine doses arrived in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, though that is still not enough to protect the population, she added.

The United States is donating 4 million vaccine doses to the Caribbean, PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said.

Barbosa said donations are badly needed because COVAX will not be able to meet its target of providing doses for 20% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean by the end of this year.

He blamed manufacturers for the COVAX delays, saying they preferred to produce for clients who pay more for the shots.

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