GIGA Focus Lateinamerika n° 5 | 10/2021 : COVID-19 in Latin America: Where We Stand and What Is to Come
As infection rates decrease, much of Latin America seems to be taking a breather from the onslaught of COVID-19. However access to vaccines is unequal, both within and between individual countries, while vaccine coverage is heterogeneous. Combined with uneven infection rates and the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant, new epidemiological and policy challenges must be addressed.
– With 45 million registered infections and almost one-third of all COVID-19-related deaths worldwide, Latin America has become a global hotspot in the pandemic.
– While Chile and Costa Rica have higher vaccination rates than Germany or the United States, half of Latin America’s population has yet to receive their first jab. What may come to the rescue are the high numbers of people who have acquired some immunity from past COVID-19 infections beyond those identified in official statistics.
– Vaccine diplomacy has changed colours. Initially, Latin America depended on vaccine shipments from China, India, and Russia. By now, the US and the multilateral COVAX initiative have become the largest providers. Policies will need to adjust to the resulting mix of vaccines of varying efficacy and varying international recognition.
– To reduce external dependence, the region will need to build up its capacity to develop and mass-produce vaccines, diagnostic equipment, and mRNA technology. The vaccines developed in Cuba could become part of the vaccine portfolio the continent will need for many years to come.
– The pandemic has exposed the region’s structural weaknesses. Public-health funding must be stepped up; ad hoc social-policy measures taken in the pandemic should be harnessed to make social safety nets more resilient and inclusive.
Policy Implications :
A strong vaccination drive remains key to keeping the pandemic at bay. As immunity – whether from past infection or vaccination – will eventually wane, vaccination may need to be integrated into routine preventive healthcare. Cooperation transcending ideological left-right dichotomies in epidemiological diagnosis, research, vaccination, and healthcare provision must become a priority within the region as well as for international partners.