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Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne. (Photo © PAHO/WHO)
Photo: Contributed - © PAHO/WHO

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, says member countries are better positioned to counter the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the upcoming holiday season, due to access to vaccines.

“We are better off… [than 2020] for one simple reason; we have more tools to protect ourselves from the virus,” she pointed out.

Speaking during PAHO’s weekly digital COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday (November 24), Dr. Etienne said the World Health Organization (WHO) has authorised eight COVID-19 vaccines that are safe and effective against the virus, noting that others have also been approved by national regulatory authorities in several countries.

She pointed out that hospitals across the region offer the “best proof of power” of these vaccines.

She noted that in countries like the United States, Canada, and Cuba, where most of the population is immunised, “these vaccines have helped lower hospital bed occupancy”.

“Mere months ago, hospital beds and intensive-care units across our region were at capacity, leaving many COVID patients with nowhere to turn. But over the last year, more than 1.3 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Americas, giving us the protection against serious COVID illness that would often require hospitalisation,” the Director said.

She maintained that PAHO is working to expand vaccine access, especially in countries falling behind in their immunisation efforts.

The Director cautioned, however, that vaccines are not the only tool to provide protection against COVID-19, adding that public measures, such as mask wearing in public spaces, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings, especially indoors, “will remain important – even as more of us get vaccinated”.

She emphasised that “there is no room for complacency”, in light of regional countries experiencing the consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic, noting that “we don’t want to be in that position again”.

“As we enter the time of year for reflection and celebration, give a gift to your friends and family by getting vaccinated when it’s your turn,” Dr. Etienne said.

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