Caribbean countries struggle with vaccination efforts.

In Guatemala, shortages of syringes have slowed vaccination efforts. In Haiti, logistical and security issues after the devastating earthquake of August 14 have contributed to Haiti being the country with the lowest vaccination rate in the world.

And in the Caribbean, countries are grappling with dose unequal distribution and hesitation about vaccines, World Health Organization officials warned in an online news conference today.

A “major challenge facing the Caribbean – Anglophone countries and Francophone countries and territories – is vaccine hesitancy,” said Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, the Covid-19 incident manager at the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of WHO

“Even if some Caribbean territories lead the way in regional vaccination coverage efforts, we can say that vaccine growth in most Caribbean countries is sub-optimal,” he said.

The WHO has set a target that every country in the world should vaccinate at least 40 percent of the population by the end of the year. Four of the six countries in America that have not yet reached the 20 percent threshold are in the Caribbean: Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia. The other two – Nicaragua and Guatemala – are located in Central America.

“In all of these countries, vaccine availability due to unequal dose distribution has been a central challenge,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, the director of the Pan-American agency.

But several countries are also “facing their own unique barriers,” she added, such as the shortage of syringes in Guatemala.

At the same time, Jamaica has faced delivery delays.

Haiti, where the August earthquake killed at least 2,200 people, has fully vaccinated less than 1 percent of the population.

“The socio-political situation in Haiti is still tense, and that has negatively impacted” vaccination efforts, said Ciro Ugarte, the Pan-American agency’s director of health emergencies.

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean receive vaccines through bilateral agreements with manufacturers and through the United Nations-backed Covax program and donations from countries with overdoses. The Pan-American agency has also entered into agreements for countries to buy millions of vaccine doses from China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac, as well as AstraZeneca.

What you need to know about Covid-19 booster shots

The FDA approved booster shots for a select group of people who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago. That group includes: Pfizer recipients who are 65 years of age or older or live in long-term care facilities; adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 due to an underlying medical condition; health professionals and others whose jobs endanger them. People with weakened immune systems are eligible for a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna four weeks after the second injection.

Regulators have not yet authorized booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but an FDA panel is scheduled to meet to weigh booster shots for adult recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines vaccines.

The CDC has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster injection are: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney, or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and (ex-)smokers are also eligible.

The FDA approved boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The CDC says that group includes: medical workers; education workers; food and agricultural workers; factory workers; corrections employees; US Postal Service workers; employees in public transport; grocery store workers.

It is not recommended. For now, recipients of the Pfizer vaccine are advised to get a Pfizer booster shot, and recipients of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will have to wait until booster doses from those manufacturers are approved.

Yes. The CDC says the Covid vaccine can be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacies allow people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.

While the number of Covid cases is declining in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, several islands in the Caribbean are seeing an increase.

For example, Barbados is reporting the highest number of infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic, said Dr. Etienne, the director of the bureau. The Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and Anguilla also report an increase in the number of cases.

“In the Eastern Caribbean, health services have been — or are still being — overwhelmed by the influx of patients requiring hospitalization,” said Dr. Aldighieri. He also noted that the situation was in stark contrast to last year, when most Caribbean island nations were largely able to prevent widespread transmission of the virus.

Despite hesitant vaccination, 39 percent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, said Dr. Etienne. That’s significantly higher than in Africa, where less than 5 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, as more vaccines begin to flow into the region, it is important that countries “make the necessary preparations so that these doses can be used as soon as possible,” said Dr. Etienne.

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