The world region with the highest COVID-19 caseload is no longer Latin America and the Caribbean, Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne announced Wednesday.
A resurgence of the disease in Europe means it has overtaken the Americas, which had led in the number of coronavirus cases for months. Over 610,000 people in the Americas have died, and more than 100,000 people are still testing positive each day, Etienne said. The U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico have reported between 850,000 and 1 million cases, she said.
Cases are plateauing in much of Central America, while new infections in the English-speaking Caribbean are mostly related to nonessential international travel, she said. But Etienne cautioned against relaxing measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, contact tracing, and case isolation just because Europe has overtaken Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Misinformation is a grave threat to the health of our region. … How we communicate about COVID-19 vaccines will make or break our ability to control the pandemic.”
“Fighting this pandemic is not a one-time effort. It requires a sustained response, even in places where transmission is down. We must keep it up,” Etienne said in a PAHO press briefing. “The pandemic is not behind us, and the threat of new cases remains active everywhere. And that’s why countries must remain in control of the virus while we await the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine.”
PAHO is assisting the region in preparing for the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine, but Etienne said the organization will only support distribution of a drug that has proved to be “safe and effective in clinical trials, reviewed by national regulatory authorities, and recommended by the World Health Organization.”
The COVAX Facility — a mechanism coordinated by WHO; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations — is the best option to equitably facilitate access for most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Etienne said.
Nearly every country in the region has joined or is in the process of joining the facility, which will support research, development, and manufacturing of vaccine candidates and negotiate pricing.