Countries in the Americas should prioritize pregnant and lactating women in distribution of COVID-19 shots, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, hailing the ability of the vaccines to protect women and their babies.
“PAHO recommends that all pregnant women after their first trimester, as well as those who are breastfeeding, receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne said during the organization’s weekly virtual briefing.
More than 270,000 pregnant women have had COVID-19 in the Americas and about one per cent have died, she said. In Mexico and Colombia, the virus is the leading cause of maternal deaths this year, she said.
But she pointed out that vaccination has been effective in preventing death.
“In Mexico, where pregnant women have been prioritized for vaccinations for some time, not a single vaccinated woman has died from COVID during pregnancy,” Etienne said.
Countries also must ensure pregnant women are able to access pre-natal care despite the pandemic, Etienne said. At least 40 per cent of countries in the region have reported disruptions to maternal and newborn care during the pandemic.
Just 28 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, Etienne said, adding that vaccination figures vary widely, with one-fourth of regional countries yet to vaccinate even 20 per cent of its people.
Guatemala and Nicaragua are currently below 10 per cent vaccine coverage, while Venezuela is at just over 11 per cent. Less than one per cent of Haiti’s population has been inoculated against COVID-19.
PAHO’s Emerging Viral Diseases advisor Jairo Mendez Rico joined other health officials in downplaying concerns about the Mu variant of the virus first discovered in Colombia, saying there is no solid evidence yet to show that it is more transmissible or lethal than others.
All currently available COVID-19 vaccines have so far been effective in protecting against the variant, which has been circulating in the Americas since January, he said.
There were nearly 1.5 million COVID-19 cases in the region last week and more than 22,000 deaths.
-From Reuters, last updated at 1:30 p.m. ET
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As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 222.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.5 million.
The UN-backed program to get vaccines to the neediest people in the world has again scaled back its target to ship doses this year, projecting about 1.4 billion doses will be available through the end of the year.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says the COVAX program that it runs has faced setbacks. Those include export restrictions from hard-hit India, a key producer of vaccines, as well as regulatory hurdles for some vaccine candidates and manufacturing troubles elsewhere.
The head of WHO on Wednesday again called on rich countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines to refrain from offering booster shots through the end of the year, expanding a call that has largely fallen on deaf ears.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday he was “appalled” at comments by a leading association of pharmaceutical manufacturers who said vaccine supplies are high enough to allow for both booster shots and vaccinations in countries in dire need of jabs but facing shortages.
“I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers,” he told a news conference.
In Europe, the head of Germany’s disease control agency says the vaccination rate needs to increase to avoid another wave of the coronavirus, warning “the pandemic is not over yet.”
Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute said Germany could experience another wave in cases in the fall, with the potential of overwhelming the country’s health system. On Wednesday, the institute reported 13,565 confirmed cases. While infection rates have been stagnant in recent days, the number of hospitalizations has increased in Germany. The number of patients in intensive care has almost doubled to more than 1,300 in the last two weeks, Wieler said.
Meanwhile, Sweden will push ahead with easing restrictions at the end of this month, removing most curbs and limits on public venues such as restaurants, theatres and stadiums.
In the Asia-Pacific region, a medical research institute in Thailand on Wednesday opened registrations for schools to get COVID-19 vaccinations for students ages 10 to 18. The Chulabhorn Royal Academy announced it would vaccinate up to 50,000 children with China’s Sinopharm vaccine starting Sept. 20.
Bangkok’s city government previously announced it will allow children 12 to 18 with underlying medical conditions to receive the Pfizer vaccine starting Sept. 21, ahead of the upcoming school year.
The Philippines capital region will remain under the second strictest coronavirus containment measures, despite a day earlier announcing a relaxation of curbs to spur business activity.
Indonesia’s daily coronavirus positivity rate dropped below the World Health Organization’s benchmark standard of five per cent this week for the first time.
South Korea has reported more than 2,000 new cases of the coronavirus, approaching a one-day record set last month, as officials expressed concern about an erosion in citizen vigilance amid prolonged pandemic restrictions.
In the Americas, Venezuela has received its first batch of vaccines through COVAX, the Pan-American Health Organization said.
U.S. President Joe Biden will present a six-pronged strategy intended to fight the spread of the delta variant and increase U.S. vaccinations, the White House said.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia removed the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and South Africa from its entry banned country list and re-allowed citizens to travel to the three countries starting Sept. 8, state TV reported.
In Africa, the International Monetary Fund’s executive board on Tuesday approved $567 million US in emergency support for Tanzania to help it finance a vaccination campaign and meet the health and social costs of the pandemic.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 10:20 a.m. ET