Inequities persist in vaccination against COVID in Latin America

Although the global vaccination rate is increasing in Latin America and the Caribbean, by the beginning of February 2022 more than 70% of the population had already received at least one dose of the available vaccines, this achievement is not sustained if the magnifying glass is put into some countries and regions.

Only 14 countries maintain a growth rate of immunization, especially for vaccination in large cities, while others barely reach 40%.

Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Peru are among the countries that have already exceeded 70% of eligible people fully vaccinated, while Nicaragua, Honduras, and Bolivia are just reaching 40%.

Within countries, vaccination rates vary dramatically, being lower in rural areas. The International Labor Organization estimates that some 123 million people, of whom 50 million work, live in rural and remote areas in the region.

For this more vulnerable population, often with lower levels of education and socioeconomic status, and inconsistent health care, access to vaccines has been erratic.

Experts say that although the global numbers are promising, it will be very difficult to achieve the necessary level of community immunity if this vaccination gap is not closed at the country and regional level.

And bridging this gap does not only mean having a strong stock of vaccines, but also having culturally competent acceptance strategies, for example, that teach and educate about the importance of vaccination not only in Spanish but in local languages ​​and dialects.

As Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), has repeatedly said, “These data are crucial for designing specific vaccination campaigns, maximizing the impact of vaccine doses, and saving lives.”

COVID vaccine: why it is essential

Vaccination is still the least way to “corner” the virus so that it does not continue to infect. The more people who are vaccinated, the more likely it is that a “collective immunity” or “herd immunity” will form, a kind of barrier of human immune systems that weakens the virus.

The following are 12 powerful answers to doubts about vaccination against COVID, compiled from reliable scientific sources, explaining why getting vaccinated as soon as possible is essential. And sure.

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1. What is the benefit of getting vaccinated against COVID?

Available COVID vaccines protect up to 95% from contracting the coronavirus and developing COVID-19.

The information that exists so far, as a result of scientific research, shows that if a person is vaccinated and gets infected anyway, the vaccine will protect them from developing a severe form of the disease and from having to be hospitalized.

2. How does the COVID vaccine work in the body?

The goal of the vaccine is to teach the immune system to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

The vaccine contains substances that act by neutralizing the action of a protein that helps the coronavirus to infect the human body. Furthermore, when immunized, the body is left with a supply of T cells and B cells that will remember how to fight that virus in the future.

3. Do COVID vaccines contain the live virus that causes the disease? Can they give me COVID?

None of the vaccines, both those that are already being applied and those that are still being tested, contain live forms of the coronavirus. And they cannot infect with the coronavirus either.

4. Are COVID vaccines all the same? If I want to get vaccinated, how do I choose which one to use?

Currently, there are three main types of vaccines against COVID-19. They are the following:

mRNA vaccines. These vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19. This material “teaches” cells how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. Once the cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material in the vaccine.

If you come into contact with the virus, your body will recognize that the protein shouldn’t be there and will produce T cells and B cells that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19. That is, they will prevent infection

Vaccines with protein subunits. These vaccines contain harmless parts (proteins) of the virus that causes COVID-19, but they do not contain the whole germ.

Upon vaccination, a person’s immune system recognizes that the proteins do not belong in the body and begins to produce T-lymphocytes and antibodies. If in the future the person becomes infected, the cells, which memorized this protein, will recognize it and fight the virus.

Vector vaccines. These vaccines contain a weakened version of a live virus, different from the one that causes COVID-19, that has genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 inserted into it (this is called a viral vector).

Once the viral vector is inside cells, the genetic material “instructs” the cells to produce a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Using these instructions, cells make copies of the protein. This prompts the body to produce T cells and B cells that will remember how to fight that virus if the person becomes infected in the future.

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Your own primary care doctor, or your local health department, can explain more about vaccinations.

5. Can these vaccines cause side effects?

Vaccines can cause side effects such as arm pain and a slight fever. But this means that in fact they have started to act in the organism. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is developing immunity.

A few cases of allergic reactions have been reported in people with a medical history of allergies or asthma. That is why, for example in the United States, the procedure is to vaccinate the person and for him to remain half an hour at the vaccination site to monitor any unusual reaction.

But again, these have been a few isolated cases. And it is common for them to be registered when the vaccine begins to be applied to many more people than those who participate in a clinical trial.

6. How long does it take for the body to be protected against COVID?

It usually takes at least two weeks for the body to produce T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes after vaccination to produce immunity.

Therefore, it is possible for a person to become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and then become ill because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.

What is known from experience with other vaccines is that if a vaccinated person becomes infected, they will almost certainly have a mild form of the disease.

7. Why are two doses of the COVID vaccine needed?

All COVID vaccines (except Johnson & Johnson) require two doses to develop immunity.

The first puncture begins to build protection. A second dose is needed a few weeks later to get the best protection the vaccine can offer.

This is not something unique to the COVID-19 vaccine. Many vaccines in the routine vaccination schedule require two or even three doses to build long-term immunity, for example the DTaP vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or the pneumococcal vaccine.

8. How long does the immunity generated by the vaccine last?

Developing COVID-19 may offer some natural protection, known as immunity. Current evidence suggests that reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 is rare within 90 days of initial infection.

However, experts aren’t sure how long this protection lasts, and the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 far outweighs any benefit from natural immunity.

The COVID-19 vaccine helps protect by creating an antibody (immune system) response without having to experience illness.

Both natural immunity and immunity produced by a vaccine are important parts of COVID-19 that experts are learning more about every day.

One of the things to elucidate is whether the COVID vaccine will provide long-term immunity or it will end up being seasonal, such as the flu vaccine.

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9. If I wear a mask, why do I have to get vaccinated?

Wearing masks and physical distancing help reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus or passing it on to others, but these measures are not enough.

Vaccines teach the body that the immune system is ready to fight the virus if you are exposed.

The combination of vaccines and basic sanitary measures, wearing a mask, respecting the distance and washing your hands, among others, will continue to offer protection against COVID-19, as long as the pandemic is not declared over.

10. What precautions should I take before and after getting vaccinated?

Specialists indicate that it is important to sleep well and hydrate properly before being vaccinated, so that the body receives the dose in the best way.

Regarding exercise, there is not enough evidence to flatly contraindicate it before or after receiving the vaccine, even if you do not suffer any side effects there should be no problem in doing physical activity.

However, the recommendation of the experts is not to make great physical efforts both before and after vaccination (about 12 hours).

A negative immune response should also not be stimulated, for example, by body modifications (such as tattoos or piercings), or by taking over-the-counter medications.

11. Should I get the booster shot?

The CDC recommends that everyone who is eligible receive the booster dose.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a new virus, which scientists are closely monitoring, investigating its variants, and developing therapeutic and immunization responses. One of the big questions is the changes in the genetics of the virus will make the COVID-19 vaccine seasonal, like the flu. As these are ongoing investigations, as new information emerges, the course of action is decided.

So far, studies show that after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, protection against the virus may wane over time and be less effective at protecting against the delta variant. Evidence also shows that among health workers and other frontline workers, the effectiveness of the vaccine declines over time. This drop in effectiveness probably has to do with the appearance of new variants, such as delta and mu.

Precisely for this reason, the reinforcement of the vaccine is important: to “remind” the immune system that there is an enemy against which it has to react.

12. Why getting vaccinated is a social duty

Getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. This protection against COVID-19 is vitally important because for some people they get severe illness from COVID, or die.

Mass vaccination generates herd immunity: the equation is simple, the more people vaccinated, the greater the protection against the virus.

Vaccination protects the vaccinated, protects others, and weakens the circulation of the virus, because it stops finding organisms to infect.

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