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Misinformation threatens response to Covid-19 in the Americas, PAHO alerts

October 21, 2020

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned Wednesday that misinformation threatens the response to Covid-19 in the American continent, in particular with regard to a vaccine against the virus.

“Misinformation is a grave threat to the health of our region. Insidious rumors and conspiracy theories can disrupt vaccination efforts and imperil our Covid-19 response, costing lives,” said Carissa Etienne, director of PAHO.

During a virtual press conference, Etienne emphasized that communication about Covid-19 vaccines will determine the region’s ability to control the pandemic.

More than 190 vaccine candidates are currently under study, 11 of them in Phase 3 clinical trials, and the process has the world’s attention in the face of the urgency to achieve an immunization that is effective and safe against COVID-19.

But according to Etienne, the overabundance of information from not-always-reliable sources has led to confusion about the safety of vaccines.

“It is vital that the public receive clear, concise and scientifically based information about a future vaccine for Covid-19,” she stressed, calling on authorities, media, the private sector and the scientific community to collaborate in this effort.

The American continent has summed 19 million cases and more than 614,000 deaths related to the new coronavirus that appeared in China at the end of 2019. This represents almost half of the known infections and deaths worldwide.

Etienne pointed out that in all the subregions of the Americas there is still a high transmission of the virus, with about 100,000 daily infections. She highlighted not only the incidence rates in the United States and Brazil, but also in Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Mexico.

“The region is still dealing with a significant outbreak,” she said.

The United States, the country hardest-hit by the virus in the world, continues to see a steady increase in cases, particularly in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions. Canada is experiencing a second wave, especially in the northeast in the province of New Brunswick.

In Central America, there is a persistent increase of cases in Costa Rica and Belize, while in the English-speaking Caribbean, most of the new cases are related to non-essential international travel.

The director of PAHO, the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), acknowledged that treatment options remain limited, which is why she called for vigilance — tests, isolation and contact tracing — as well as compliance with recommended public health measures.

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