The W.H.O. calls out unequal access to vaccines for Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Just one in 10 people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated, a W.H.O. official said, calling it an “unacceptable situation.”,

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The W.H.O. calls out unequal access to vaccines for Latin American and Caribbean countries.

At a vaccination site in Havana, Cuba, on last week.
At a vaccination site in Havana, Cuba, on last week.Credit…Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

By Daniel Politi

  • June 30, 2021, 3:58 p.m. ET

BUENOS AIRES — As some wealthy countries ease coronavirus restrictions, or make plans to in the near future, Latin America and the Caribbean continue to be hammered by increased infections and deaths, highlighting the stark inequalities in access to vaccines around the world, officials from the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

“When we are seeing some reprieve from the virus in countries in the northern hemisphere, for most countries in the region, the end remains a distant future,” said Carissa Etienne, the director of Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O.

“Despite this worrisome picture, just one in 10 people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” she added, calling it an “unacceptable situation.”

Economic inequality, the huge informal economy and the difficulty of implementing public health measures in Latin America and the Caribbean have all been major obstacles to containing the coronavirus there, said Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s director of health emergencies.

New cases continue to rise in many countries in Central America, including Panama and Guatemala; the Caribbean, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic; and South America, including Colombia and Brazil.

Brazil recently surpassed 500,000 official Covid-19 deaths, the world’s second-highest total behind the United States. About 1 in every 400 Brazilians has died from the virus, but many experts believe the true death toll may be higher. Home to just over 2.7 percent of the world’s population, Brazil accounts for roughly 13 percent of recorded fatalities, and the situation there is not easing.

Now in addition to a worsening situation, countries in the region have to prepare for conditions that could lead to a further spike in cases, including hurricane season and the flu season farther south, both of which come at a time when social distancing measures have been relaxed.

Coronavirus variants have been detected across the region, with 14 countries in the Americas detecting cases of the Delta variant, creating more urgency to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible, said Dr. Etienne. She added that inoculation can be ramped up in part through donations from developed countries.

Although there is not yet good data on how all of the vaccines hold up against Delta, several widely used shots, including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant, research suggests.

Eighty-five percent of shots that have gone into arms worldwide have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.3 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.

Less wealthy countries are relying on a vaccine-sharing arrangement called Covax, which aims to provide two billion doses by the end of the year.

On Wednesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the United States is sending 2.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Colombia, part of President Biden’s pledge to dispatch doses to countries desperate for vaccines.

“Access to Covid-19 vaccines shouldn’t be a privilege for a few but a right we all share,” Dr. Etienne said.

For now, the Delta variant remains largely tied to travelers in Latin America and the Caribbean and “community transmission has been limited,” said Jairo Mendez, a PAHO regional adviser for viral diseases.

The connection between travelers and the increase in infections from variants led PAHO to call on governments with a high rates of variants to limit travel from their countries to others, or even close their borders entirely.

“Now may not be the ideal time for travel, especially in places with active outbreaks or where hospital capacity may be limited,” Dr. Etienne said.

Dan Levin contributed reporting.

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