Latin America and the Caribbean continue to be hammered by increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths, highlighting the stark global inequalities in access to vaccines, officials from the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.
At a time “when we are seeing some reprieve from the virus in countries in the Northern Hemisphere,” Carissa Etienne, the director of the W.H.O.’s Pan American Health Organization, said at a news conference that for most countries in the Southern Hemisphere, “the end remains a distant future.”
Only one person in 10 has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, she added, calling it an “unacceptable situation.”
“Access to Covid-19 vaccines shouldn’t be a privilege for a few but a right we all share,” Dr. Etienne said.
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, the director of health emergencies at Dr. Etienne’s organization.
New cases continue to increase 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 known total behind the United States. About 1 in every 400 Brazilians is reported to have died from the virus, but many experts believe the true 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.
This time of year, countries in the region also have to prepare for conditions that could further exacerbate outbreaks: the hurricane season and the flu season farther south, both of which come as social distancing measures have been relaxed.
Variants of the virus have surfaced across the Americas, with 14 countries detecting cases of the more-transmissible Delta variant, adding to the urgency of vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible, Dr. Etienne said. She said donations from developed countries could help speed up inoculations.
Eighty-five percent of shots administered worldwide have been 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 was sending 2.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Colombia as part of President Biden’s pledge to dispatch vaccines to countries desperate for them.