When Will Latin America Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Margaret Keenan, 90, the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine, leaves University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire with grandson Conor (L) and daughter Sue (R), the day after receiving the first of two doses of the vaccine, on December 9, 2020 in Coventry, United Kingdom. The UK is the first country in the world to start vaccinating people with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. PAHO says it could be months before Latin America gets the vaccine. (Photo by Jonny Weeks/The Guardian - Pool/Getty Images)

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA, Brazil, Thurs. Dec 10, 2020 (Reuters) – Latin American countries will not get enough COVID-19 vaccines for months when they come available, the World Health Organization advised on Wednesday.

Its regional branch for the Americas, PAHO, warned that vaccines being developed now will take months to arrive and supplies might not become sufficient until after 2021. PAHO also said countries in the region should develop immunization plans focusing first on health workers and the elderly

Countries should at first aim to vaccinate 20% of the population, giving priority to medical workers and people over 65 and those that have prior health conditions, PAHO said.

“It will take many months to receive the vaccines needed to interrupt the transmission of coronavirus,” said Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization.

In the meantime, he said in a briefing from Washington, countries must not relax preventive social distancing measures and the use of masks and the practice of washing hands.

Health experts do not know exactly what level of vaccination is needed to obtain herd immunity and stop the virus spreading, though the WHO has estimated this at 70%, he said.

A number of vaccine candidates are being tested but no vaccine has been approved for distribution yet in the region.

“We are working hard to ensure that once vaccines are approved and available, countries are prepared to roll them out” to ensure logistics systems and cold storage supply chains are in place, said PAHO director Carissa Etienne.

Meanwhile, the jumps in weekly COVID-19 case counts in the United States and Canada are particularly worrisome as the Northern Hemisphere winter approaches, Etienne said.

Mexico is experiencing a resurgence in cases in the state of Baja California, near the U.S. border, she said.

Brazil is currently reporting the highest incidence of new cases in South America, and the mounting cases and deaths have put its health system under strain and hospitals are at capacity in some areas, Etienne said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)