Faced with the most serious health crisis that the region has experienced in years, it is natural that we all have good reasons for wanting to be vaccinated and protected against COVID-19. Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that was reeling from social protests before the advent of COVID-19, has seen disparities aggravated by the pandemic, with the adverse effects of COVID-19 concentrated among the most marginalized.
An equity lens
A focus on equity compels us to recognize that structural barriers can make it difficult for diverse groups to access COVID-19 vaccines. For this reason, it is essential to facilitate access for vulnerable groups and ensure that race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, and disability are not an obstacle to vaccination. Most importantly, we would hope to be able to demonstrate that vaccines are reaching all targeted populations, especially the most affected communities.
Transparent real-time monitoring of vaccine distribution is our best ally for this. Not only can this quell rumors and demonstrate the extent of vaccination efforts, but it also provides the information needed to design corrective actions when gaps are identified. For example, if the monitoring shows that a community with a high prevalence of Afro-descendants and high COVID-19 transmission or mortality rates has lower vaccination rates than in other nearby communities, actions can be taken to promote vaccinations in this “hot spot”; authorities might consider increasing vaccination sites and times or working with respected community leaders to promote vaccination. Of course, this requires recording race, ethnicity, geographic residence, age, and gender in information systems.
Transparency and equity
Our publication contains key actions to promote equity in vaccine distribution to vulnerable populations, including examples of how certain countries are using data collected in real-time on vaccine distribution to update their strategies and better address equity in vaccination plans. The publication argues that everyone needs to be informed regarding vaccination plans, access the vaccine without obstacles within the prioritization scheme of each country, and give their free and informed consent to the vaccine. Planning with a focus on equity allows us to avoid, for example, that a person using a wheelchair cannot enter a vaccination site, that an indigenous person cannot provide consent due to lack of intercultural mediators or translators, or that a person with a hearing disability does not know the procedures to follow because there are no communication materials in sign language and/or close-captioned.
We recognize that each population group, not to mention each person, faces its own challenges when accessing a vaccine. For this reason, we will be publishing a series of blogs entitled “The vaccine and I” on how to promote access to vaccination among people with disabilities, Afro-descendant populations, and indigenous peoples from the lens of personal stories from the region. We invite you to continue learning more!