Between megalopolises, shanty towns, mountains, tropical forests or deserts, Latin America is a huge disparate whole where mass vaccination against COVID-19 poses many challenges, amplified by the economic crisis.
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Transporting the vaccine “to places furthest from large cities while preserving the cold chain” will be the first challenge to take up, according to AFP the Colombian epidemiologist Carlos Trillo who also points to the lack of trained personnel. handling of vaccines.
The region has already experienced a foretaste of the difficulties it will have to face when it was necessary to transfer, at the onset of the pandemic, doctors and protective equipment for more than three million indigenous people living in remote areas. of the immense Amazon.
More than 12 million Latin Americans out of 630 million have been infected with the coronavirus, for about 435,000 deaths, or a third of the deaths due to the epidemic in the world, according to a report established by AFP on the basis of official figures.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) hopes to start the distribution of vaccines in March 2021 through the Covax mechanism set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable access to vaccines against the backdrop of the global race. for these products.
All Latin American countries have expressed interest in joining the scheme that will provide doses of vaccine to 10-20% of the population, explains PAHO Deputy Director Jarbas Barbosa.
The first beneficiaries should be health professionals, workers in sectors considered essential, then the elderly or those at risk of developing severe forms of COVID-19.
At the same time, many governments have signed bilateral agreements with laboratories, despite the worrying economic situation in the region, a direct consequence of the health crisis.
The poorest countries, like Bolivia, Haiti, Guyana and several Caribbean islands, hope to be able to receive vaccines via Covax without paying any money, just like El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua which must ensure the reconstruction after the recent passage of the devastating hurricanes Eta and Iota.
According to the device’s latest projections, vaccinating 20% of the region’s population will cost more than $ 2 billion.
Logistics promises to be a headache: maintaining the cold chain “is a challenge for all countries”, recalls Mr. Barbosa, while the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine must for example be kept at a temperature of -70 degrees .
Argentina, which has signed agreements guaranteeing it will be able to vaccinate 28 of its 44 million inhabitants, intends to rely on the army to ensure the logistics of a campaign that could be carried out in health centers and schools.
In Peru, the most bereaved country in the region with 1081 deaths per million inhabitants and which is going through a serious institutional crisis, 9.5 million vaccines are guaranteed and the country continues its negotiations to be able to vaccinate 24 of the 31 million Peruvians .
Venezuela, meanwhile, announced an agreement with its ally Moscow to receive 10 million copies of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine in the first quarter of 2021 for a campaign start in April.
But the problem in this country with a failing economy is the lack of infrastructure and equipment to maintain the cold chain, underlines Virgilio Vasquez, director of the local NGO Médecins unis.
“It is not enough for the vaccines to reach the main hospitals, they must reach the health centers in remote areas (…) where, even by providing them with non-existent equipment for the time being, the problem of cut-offs will remain. ‘electricity in areas where they can last for hours,’ he says.
Not to mention the lack of vehicles and gasoline shortages.
In Brazil, the 212 million inhabitants already benefit from a vast vaccination program “free and which can reach the most remote areas”, reminds AFP Natalia Pasternak, specialist in microbiology at the University of Sao Paulo ( USP).
But the obstacles could come from the “posture of the president” of extreme right Jair Bolsonaro, very skeptical of the reality of the pandemic and its consequences, and of a “possible resistance of the population” to be vaccinated, underlines t -she.