PAHO stresses continued need to target at-risk groups with Covid vaccines

PAHO Assistant Director, Dr Jarbas Barbosa (photo courtesy PAHO)
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By Kadeem Joseph

[email protected]

As countries like Antigua and Barbuda inch toward some form of normality amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) continues to underscore the importance of getting at-risk groups vaccinated.

During the body’s latest press briefing, PAHO’s Assistant Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa told Observer that the objective of the Covid-19 vaccinations is not to achieve herd immunity but “to protect the most vulnerable groups and prevent severe cases and deaths”.

He explained that all the national plans that PAHO supported targeted elderly people, followed by individuals with noncommunicable diseases, adults, then adolescents and children.

“Antigua and Barbuda has made a tremendous effort to increase vaccination; it is important to recognise this effort,” he said. “But, for sure, we need to achieve a very high and homogeneous immunisation coverage, not only with one dose but with the full scheme in order to protect the people who are most vulnerable.”

Covid-19 vaccinations have slowed in Antigua and Barbuda in recent months, and recent updates reveal that there are 61,144 fully vaccinated individuals in the twin islands — just under 20,000 people shy of the government’s herd immunity target that was set in 2021.

Meanwhile, Dr Barbosa is also advising countries to pay keen attention to routine immunisations such as those for measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as he pointed to a recent outbreak of polio in the African region last week.

“We know that in many countries in the region, the pandemic also impacted, in a negative way, the routine immunisation programme,” he said. “We are supporting the countries to establish specific strategies to perform a very thoughtful analysis on what are the neighbourhoods and communities that are falling behind on routine vaccinations.”

The PAHO official said one such strategy is going house to house in order to mobilise the children who may have missed their vaccines.

Observer media has reached out to the Ministry of Health to ascertain what impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on routine immunisations and will report further when that information becomes available.

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