WASHINGTON, D.C., USA, Wed. Feb. 17, 2021– In the latest PAHO press briefing, the Director of PAHO, Dr. Carissa Etienne, expressed optimism that the health interventions being done can help in keeping the effects of the COVID-19 virus controlled. She said, “We have experienced a 10% drop from weeks past – proof that public health interventions are helping us keep the virus at bay. Across North America, new infections are declining, giving hospitals much-needed reprieve. Every country in Central America is also experiencing reductions in cases, except Honduras, which throughout 2021 has consistently reported a rise in infections.”
Despite the encouraging results, Dr. Etienne says that this is not sufficient to ensure that the populations of these communities will be able to benefit from the collective immunity effects of the vaccine. More than 700 million persons must be vaccinated so that a seventy percent (70%) vaccine coverage is achieved. That is the estimated percentage of people who need to be vaccinated to curb COVID’s effects, according to PAHO.
“There is an estimate that is yet to be confirmed in real life, that we would need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the people to have control of transmission guaranteed,” explained Etienne. Although this is not an easy task, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Assistant Director of PAHO, added, “Others speak even up to 90 percent. The vaccine that is being used at present has the purpose of saving lives, not controlling transmission.”
PAHO still advocates for everyone to continue practicing all the preventative measures that are known to be effective against transmission, such as the use of masks when leaving home, the avoidance of crowds or unnecessary enclosed areas, and the avoidance of physical contact with other persons. Dr. Barbosa said, “All these recommendations are effective. We have a great deal of evidence that they do decrease the transmission capacity, so it is important that we remember we need to maintain these measures until all countries of the world have reached that vaccine coverage that is necessary.”
Dr. Barbosa added that there is hope that we may attain this estimated seventy percent (70%) coverage, for there is an increase in vaccine producers. Dr. Barbosa noted that despite the increase in demand, it is very important for vaccines to be safe, therefore all of the vaccines must meet all of the requirements, undergo all three phases, and be prequalified by WHO to be used throughout the COVAX facility. In addition, there must be a regulatory authority in the countries where their use is being attempted. “The higher the number of producers that we have in the world, including in Latin America, is good news; but they need to comply with all of the requirements, only after we have the assurances that the vaccine is safe to be used,” said Dr. Barbosa.
The PAHO representatives said that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is a collaborative effort. All countries, organizations, and people alike, must do what is necessary to minimize risk and exposure from the virus. Dr. Barbosa added, “If a rich country, for example, were to achieve the estimated seventy percent (70%) coverage, but other countries don’t have control, then the virus will continue to circulate until we will have new variants. We will all need to work together in a very well-coordinated manner, but the impact of vaccination on transmission will take time. The first objective, again, is to save lives, and it is important to save those lives until we are able to reach that point of controlling transmission.”