BUENOS AIRES — Latin America and the Caribbean continue to be hammered by increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths, highlighting the stark global inequalities in access to vaccines, officials from the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.
At a time “when we are seeing some reprieve from the virus in countries in the Northern Hemisphere,” Carissa Etienne, the director of the W.H.O.’s Pan American Health Organization, said at a news conference that for most countries in the Southern Hemisphere, “the end remains a distant future.”
“Despite this worrisome picture, just one in 10 people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” she added, calling it an “unacceptable situation.”
“Access to Covid-19 vaccines shouldn’t be a privilege for a few but a right we all share,” Dr. Etienne said.
Economic inequality, the huge informal economy and the difficulty of implementing public health measures in Latin America and the Caribbean have all been major obstacles to containing the coronavirus there, said Ciro Ugarte, the director of health emergencies at Dr. Etienne’s organization.
New cases continue to increase in many countries in Central America, including Panama and Guatemala; the Caribbean, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic; and South America, including Colombia and Brazil.
Brazil recently surpassed 500,000 official Covid-19 deaths, the world’s second-highest known total behind the United States. About 1 in every 400 Brazilians has died from the virus, but many experts believe the true death toll may be higher. Home to just over 2.7 percent of the world’s population, Brazil accounts for roughly 13 percent of recorded fatalities, and the situation there is not easing.
This time of year countries in the region also have to prepare for conditions that could further exacerbate the spike in cases: the hurricane season and the flu season farther south, both of which come as social distancing measures have been relaxed.
Variants of the virus have been detected across the Americas, with 14 countries detecting cases of the more-transmissible Delta variant, a fact that adds to the urgency to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible, said Dr. Etienne. She said inoculation could be ramped up in part through donations from developed countries.
Although there is not yet solid data on how all of the vaccines hold up against Delta, research suggests that full vaccination with several widely used shots, including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, appear to retain considerable effectiveness against the variant.
Eighty-five percent of shots administered worldwide have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.3 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.
Less wealthy countries are relying on a vaccine-sharing arrangement called Covax, which aims to provide two billion doses by the end of the year.
On Wednesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the United States was sending 2.5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Colombia as part of President Biden’s pledge to dispatch vaccines to countries desperate for them.
For now, the Delta variant remains largely tied to travelers in Latin America and the Caribbean and “community transmission has been limited,” said Jairo Méndez, a regional adviser for viral diseases at the Pan American Health Organization.
The connection between travelers and the increase in infections from variants led the organization to call on governments with high rates of variants to limit travel from their countries, or even to close their borders entirely.
“Now may not be the ideal time for travel, especially in places with active outbreaks or where hospital capacity may be limited,” Dr. Etienne said.
Dan Levin contributed reporting.