South America becomes world leader in vaccination against COVID-19

The region that was the epicentre of the pandemic earlier this year now leads the global race to vaccinate against the virus, overtaking Europe and North America, according to figures from Our World in Data
Vacuna covid

AFP/ JAVIER TORRES  -   A health worker prepares a dose of Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination centre in Santiago, Chile, 23 December 2021

As 2021 begins, media around the world are calling South America's epidemic situation the most complex. The collapse of the health system and the lack of medical resources led to the loss of thousands of people throughout the region, causing unsustainable situations in countries such as Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. In the latter, it has not yet been possible to quantify the real losses since, after the saturation of the morgues, many remained unidentified.

This reality made South America the region with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, surpassing the United States and Europe. However, the end of 2021 has revealed hope within the situation that the region is experiencing, as it has become the area with the highest levels of vaccination against the coronavirus.

The arrival of vaccines has reduced the impact of the pandemic, making South America the most vaccinated region, with 63.3% of its total population fully vaccinated against the virus. In second place is the European continent with 60.7%. The last place goes to Africa with only 8.8 % of the population fully vaccinated according to the Oxford University's Our World in Data. This project shows how infection rates and deaths have been drastically reduced compared to mid-2021. 

Campaña de vacunación
AFP/ PEDRO PARDO  -  In this file photo taken on 11 May 2021 People wait after receiving doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre for people over 50 years old set up at the Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City
Vaccination schedules in South America

The South American region has made progress in the fight against the pandemic, but is still far from overcoming the crisis. Despite 63.3 % vaccination coverage, experts estimate that 80 % is needed, following the emergence of variants, to achieve herd immunity.

Chile is the most advanced nation in the region, with 92% of those over 18 years of age having the full schedule of two vaccines, and 68% having already received the booster dose. In Uruguay, more than 75% of the population has received two doses, and 42% have received the third dose. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro's denialism has not prevented 67% of the population from receiving two doses and 11.5% are on their third dose.

Paciente COVID-19
AFP/ ALAIN JOCARD  -  A nurse attends to a patient with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit of the Delafontaine AP-HP hospital in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on December 29, 2021
Abstention from vaccines 

The adoption of vaccines was initially unwelcome in South America, but this has been reversed and has led to rapid expansion of the vaccine.

Experts have pointed to a number of factors that have boosted the spread of the campaign. Among them, the Brazilian epidemiologist, Paulo Lotufo, highlighted the region's vaccination system, which has historically been characterised by the adoption of and confidence in mass vaccines, as in diseases such as smallpox and measles, and which has led to the introduction of this new dose. In some major cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, nearly 99% of the adult population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

Pruebas COVID-19
AFP/RODRIGO URZAGASTI  -  A health worker swabs a woman at a testing centre for the new COVID-19 coronavirus disease, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, 29 December 2021

Surprisingly, Europe, despite having more resources and vaccines, has lower levels of vaccination, mainly due to abstentionism and denial of immunisation injections by thousands of Europeans.

The governments of France, Spain and Germany were forced to resume closure and restriction measures in an attempt to prevent the rapid spread of infection, while facing the problem of insufficient vaccination rates.

The arrival of the Omicron variant, which strikes without exception and accelerates infection even in inoculated people, poses a major challenge to health authorities. Health experts stress the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing people from developing severe symptoms of the disease and recommend a third dose of the vaccines.