Mary Lou Valdez – PAHO Deputy Director



The Dallas Examiner


“Countries with lagging vaccination coverage should brace themselves and ensure that their hospitals are adequately prepared to care for an influx of COVID patients,” PAHO Deputy Director Mary Lou Valdez warned.

On July 27, the Pan American Health Organization held a briefing on COVID-19 and other health issues in the Americas. Valdez provided an update on COVID-19 and monkeypox transmission.

“For the first time in five weeks, COVID cases have decreased in the Americas. COVID-related deaths have also remained stable, but COVID-related hospitalization and ICU admissions are up in more than eight countries throughout the region,” she said.

Moreover, infections are still high. In the last week, more than 1.6 million new COVID cases were reported in the region, and several countries are still experiencing a rise in cases. Canada reported more than a 20% increase in infections over the last week. In Central America, COVID cases are climbing in Costa Rica and Honduras. Cases are also increasing in some South American countries, with the most significant surges reported in Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. In the Caribbean, Cuba, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Trinidad and Tobago continue to see increasing COVID-19 hospitalization and ICU admissions.

Valdez stated that, similarly to Europe, the Omicron BA 4 and BA 5 subvariants are becoming the dominant strains in the Americas and are responsible for the growing number of cases.

“There’s one key difference in the dynamics in Europe and the situation in the Americas, and that is vaccination coverage. Thanks to high vaccination coverage across Europe, most COVID patients have been able to safely manage their symptoms at home. Leaving hospitals to care for the most vulnerable patients,” Valdez explained.

In the Americas, one-third of the population remains unvaccinated, and 10 countries and territories have yet to achieve a 40% vaccination rate.

“Our region must take Omicron seriously and consider adjusting public health measures as needed,” she urged. “Without adequate vaccination, we leave ourselves and our families vulnerable to this evolving virus.”

Valdez also provided an update on the monkeypox outbreak. The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern last weekend. Nearly 5,300 monkeypox cases have been reported across 18 countries and territories in the Americas, with the majority being in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. To date, no deaths due to monkeypox have been reported in the Americas. Nearly all reported cases have been among men who have sex with men and who are between the ages of 25 and 45.

“We should be clear that anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, can get monkeypox,” she expressed. “The emergence of monkeypox as a public health emergency of international concern should serve as a reminder for countries to remain alert and to work more closely together to bring this outbreak under control.”

She stated that a vaccine-derived polio type 2 case was reported in the United States. Local health authorities are investigating the case, and PAHO will share additional information as it becomes available. North and South America has been polio-free since 1994 as a result of vaccination coverage and disease surveillance; however, in recent years, polio vaccination rates have dropped considerably in our region. Today, the regional polio vaccination rate is 79%, which is well below the recommended 95% threshold. This is the lowest coverage reported since 1994.

“This is extremely worrisome because, without adequate vaccination coverage, our region remains vulnerable to outbreaks ….,” Valdez said in closing. “We cannot afford to be complacent. Being healthy and safe from disease takes conservative action. We must use the tools at our hands. Vaccines, medicines and surveillance to keep our populations healthy.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *