COVID-19 Cases Rise in India, Argentina, Straining Healthcare Systems as Vaccination Rates Near Plateau in United States
Although campaigns across the world have succeeded in vaccinating more people against the COVID-19 virus, new cases and hospitalizations are still on the rise in some regions—contributing to a ripple effect that hampers recovery attempts and threatens the healthcare industry at large.
Reports are emerging from India that indicate its healthcare system is not only strained but nearing collapse.
All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ chief, Dr. Randeep Guleria, said the country’s health infrastructure is heavily burdened. According to Hindustan Times, the country has been hit with more than 14.5 million cases during the pandemic.
Reuters reported that along with India now having the world’s highest daily tally of infections, with a record of 314,835 cases on 22 April, its hospitals are likely struggling to save patients as they encounter shortages of medical supplies, hospital beds, and medicines.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 28 percent of all new cases of coronavirus over the past week came from India.
“Six hospitals in New Delhi had run out of oxygen, according to a tally shared by the city government, and the city's deputy chief minister said neighbouring states were holding back supplies for their own needs,” according to Reuters.
Coronavirus variants and relaxed pandemic restrictions have been blamed for the recent surge in cases in the country.
Although India has administered more than 127 million doses of vaccines, that number is a small fraction of the country’s population of more than 1 billion people. While vaccines have been promised to anyone older than 18 years of age come 1 May, a shortage of supplies and imports indicate that not everyone eligible (an estimated 600 million people) will have immediate access to a vaccine.
This latest wave of the pandemic is catching others unawares and straining health services.
Argentina’s Health Minister, Carla Vizzotti, says that the country is in its “worst moment” of the pandemic, with COVID-19 deaths up to 60,000 and roughly 30,000 new cases courtesy of a second wave. “It’s growing exponentially in most of the country,” Vizzotti said in a briefing.
According to the Buenos Aires Times, the city’s Health Minister Fernán Quirós said that in the country’s capital some hospitals’ ICUs were close to full. “The health system has come under stress very quickly and we must work to accompany it,” Quirós said.
Healthcare workers and supporters in Argentina are protesting, calling for better salaries for those in the industry as nurses and other staff struggle to meet the rising number of cases.
Those with sufficient means in Latin America—politicians, executives, an entire soccer team, and others—“are chartering planes, booking commercial flights, buying bus tickets, and renting cars to get the vaccine in the United States due to a lack of supply at home,” the Associated Press reported.
According to the Associated Press, it’s about survival since many countries in the region did not or could not secure enough vaccine doses for their respective populations. In Mexico, only healthcare workers, the elderly, and some educators are eligible to receive the vaccine. Mexico only secured roughly 18 million doses (more than most other Latin American countries), however, it has a population of almost 130 million.
On top of these concerns, Pfizer announced it had identified fraudulent Covid-19 doses in Mexico and Poland.
“About 80 people at a clinic in Mexico received a fake vaccine going for about $1,000 a dose, though they don’t appear to have been physically harmed,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Instead, those who can pay to travel, and want to avoid waiting for an unknown length of time, will also be paying for other expenses associated with this route to vaccination: securing a tourist visa, coronavirus tests, hotel rooms, rental cars, and more.
While the United States may provide a vaccine haven for some, including its own population, the country does appear to be plateauing and even declining in delivering vaccinations.
The Washington Post reports that about 3 million Americans are being vaccinated daily, signaling an 11 percent decrease in the average number of vaccinations from the past week. Some reasons for the decline are thought to include vaccine skeptics, concerns over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, apathy towards vaccines and the virus, and people that might have obstacles to obtaining healthcare, such as those in rural areas or who cannot leave their home.
Vaccine equity— State of Utah COVID-19 Response (@UtahCoronavirus) April 22, 2021
Remember, just because a person is eligible and vaccines are available doesn’t mean that a person has access. We are working to improve that access.
Let’s look at some numbers by ethnic group:
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on 21 April that he plans to have the United States share any surplus vaccine doses with Canada and Central American countries.
Compounding the country’s obstacles in fighting the virus, U.S. healthcare workers are notably buckling from the pressure and fear of the pandemic. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Poll found that an estimated 3 in 10 of healthcare workers are thinking about leaving the industry.
“More than half are burned out,” the Post reported. “And about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health.”
This week the U.S. Department of State added another 116 countries to its list of “Level Four: Do Not Travel” nations, an adjustment made to account for epidemiological assessments from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prior to the recent inclusions, only 34 countries were categorized as Level Four. The recommendations are not mandatory, however, and U.S. citizens and residents are not barred from traveling.