Things That Matter

As The U.S. Rolls Out The COVID-19 Vaccine, What’s The Future Of Vaccine Access In Latin America?

It’s official: the first shots are going into people’s arms at hospitals and nursing homes across the United States. In what is a record-shattering timeline, we already have several options for a vaccine to fight COVID-19 and hopefully allows us resume some sort of normalcy in our lives.

The U.S. wasn’t the first country to start administering the COVID-19 vaccine but it is one the largest to do so. And even as the U.S. struggles to implement a plan on how to roll out the program to growing numbers of people, there is growing discussion on when the vaccine will become available to countries across Latin America and if local governments will be able to successfully administer them.

Vaccines have started going into people’s arms across the United States.

Just a day after vaccines started rolling out from giant storage facilities, they’re already going into the arms of thousands of people across the country. Packed in dry ice, shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began arriving Tuesday at more than 400 hospitals and other distribution sites.

The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to front-line health workers and nursing home patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans.

The rollout provided a measure of encouragement to exhausted doctors, nurses and other hospital staffers around the country.

Despite the vaccine getting approval, many governments aren’t prepared or able to start injecting people.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Few regions in the world have been hit as hard by the pandemic as Latin America. And long before Coronavirus arrived, the region’s healthcare systems were already under immense strain.

Now, as Brazil registers the world’s second-highest Covid death toll and Mexico the highest case-fatality ratio, they’re unraveling, aggravating rising inequality, crime, economic decline and public mistrust. With 8% of the globe’s population and 30% of its Covid deaths, Latin America is facing the pandemic’s next phase – vaccines – with little in the way of confidence.

Meanwhile, there’s real fear that organized criminals could steal vaccines. In fact, just last month, hijackers commandeered a truck just east of Mexico City and hauled off its cargo. It wasn’t cash or jewelry but doses of ordinary flu vaccine so scarce in Mexico this year that there’s a black market for it. That wasn’t a good sign for the upcoming roll out of an even more scarce COVID vaccine.

Mexico may be the best equipped but there’s serious doubts and mistrust from residents.

Mexico approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine just days after the U.S. did. The government also ordered more than 34 million doses of the vaccine, the first 250,000 of which are expected to arrive in Mexico this month.

Mexican officials have placed responsibility for transporting the vaccine –which must be kept at -100 F – to the point at which they will be administered while the Health Ministry will be responsible for inoculation, with help from the Mexican military.

The vaccines ordered will be enough to inoculate 17.2 million people as each person must be given two shots 21 days apart. With only 250,000 doses expected to arrive this month, just 125,000 Mexicans – about 0.1% of the population – will be able to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Health officials are very worried about the rollout in places like Brazil and Bolivia.

From Brazil to Bolivia, some leaders aren’t lending confidence to the entire system. In fact, Brazil’s Jaír Bolsonaro has moved on from demonizing masks to now saying he won’t get a COVID vaccine. Obviously, health officials are worried the toll this could have on his loyal supporters.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, officials there approved ingesting bleach against the virus, which is widely considered useless and dangerous.

Although health officials insist they’re stocking up on equipment and mobilizing the military to help with distribution, many are still worried about what their vaccine programs will look like.

Brazil has long had a strong track record in vaccinating its 210 million people. According to a health experts, its five-decade-old immunization program, which operates 35,000 outposts, is in sturdy shape. Even in this difficult year, the government reached 90% of the people it intended to with the annual flu shot.

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