Though new coronavirus cases and deaths are declining across the Americas, the Caribbean remains particularly vulnerable to the virus, in part because of vaccination struggles, World Health Organization officials warned on Wednesday.
“Out of 13 countries and territories in the Americas that have not yet reached W.H.O.’s goal of 40 percent coverage, 10 are in the Caribbean,” Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, said at a news conference, referring to shares of their populations that have been vaccinated. The organization Dr. Etienne heads is a regional arm of the W.H.O.
There are vast differences in vaccination rates within the region. The stable, prosperous Cayman Islands has vaccinated 91 percent of its residents, according to P.A.H.O., while turbulent, low-income Haiti has managed to vaccinate just 1 percent.
Some Caribbean countries are hampered by shortages of health care workers and have set up vaccination sites only in central areas, which may be far from many of the people who need them, Dr. Etienne said.
There can also be a significant segment of the population that is resistant to being vaccinated, she said, noting that some may have questions and fears about the vaccines and others may think the coronavirus is no longer a serious threat to them. “The spread and death toll of Omicron have shown that underestimating this virus only fuels the pandemic and leads to more suffering,” Dr. Etienne said.
A survey of people in the eastern Caribbean, conducted by P.A.H.O. and the United Nations, found that 51 percent of those who did not intend to be vaccinated were open to changing their minds if they received more information.
“Dialogue, trust, and outreach are the tools we must use to get more vaccines into arms and ultimately save lives,” Dr. Etienne said.
P.A.H.O. officials warned against interpreting recent declines in the number of new cases as evidence that the coronavirus was disappearing.
“It is likely that the SARS-CoV-2 virus will continue circulating for the foreseeable future,” said Sylvain Aldighieri, P.A.H.O.’s incident manager for Covid-19.