Argentina confronting Delta variant with 32 pct. fully vaccinated

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Buenos Aires, Sep 1 (EFE).- After a month devoted to administering second doses of coronavirus vaccines, more than 14 million Argentines have now been fully immunized against Covid-19, about 32 percent of the population and a percentage that is forecast to increase with the arrival of more doses and amid the imminent community spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

According to the latest official figures, the country administered a total of 10,643,890 shots in August, about 343,000 per day, a number that exceeds the predictions made by the government and puts Argentina among the five South American countries with the best vaccination totals, according to the Our World in Data statistical Web site.

“We’re also exceeding the objective for this month, which with 60 percent of people over age 50 fully vaccinated is to reach 70 percent,” Argentine Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said Tuesday after the meeting of the Federal Health Council.

In that regard, more than 70 percent of the vaccines administered in Argentina in August – a total of 7,730,764 shots – have been second doses, thus getting from 15.7 percent of the population fully vaccinated at the beginning of the month to 32.2 percent now.

Jorge Geffner, an immunology professor at the University of Buenos Aires, called the result of the vaccination effort so far “positive,” especially the decision to complete the vaccination regimens begun using Sputnik V with AstraZeneca or Moderna, something that has been sorely needed for those who have gone more than 90 days waiting for the second dose of the Russian vaccine.

“It could have been better, but it’s a grey area because we’re above 300,000 shots per day. I think that lots of vaccinations are being administered although I’m worried about the matter of completing the second doses among people over 50, since we still are 40 percent (below the target),” Geffner told EFE by telephone.

Thus, the Argentine government will once again prioritize the administration of second doses in September thanks to the arrival of the first doses of the Pfizer and CanSino vaccines in the next two weeks, which will be in addition to another three million doses of Sinopharm.

By following this plan, the country sometime this week will augment the 55,471,120 doses currently in stock, according to central government data.

This progress comes amid the imminent risk of community spread of the Delta variant, given that several untraceable cases have been detected in the capital and in surrounding Buenos Aires province.

According to Elena Obieta, a member of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases (SADI), the spread of the Delta variant is already a reality in the South American country, thus forcing authorities to increase the rate of vaccinations.

“With the original Covid strain, we calculated that with 60 or 70 percent immunity among the population we could get back to normal. This Delta variant has a higher ‘R0’ value, and so we need to expand the herd immunity percentage to 80 or 85 percent,” she told EFE via videoconference.

In fact, Geffner said that this variant is “a different pandemic,” especially due to its contagiousness, which is similar between a nonvaccinated and a vaccinated person after the initial days of close contact.

“We’re assuming that there’s already community spread, although it may still be emerging. We have closed borders, and so it’s growing slowly, but when travel gets started … The Delta variant is characterized by that. You do a swab of someone and he has 100 times the viral load of other variants,” he said.

Meanwhile, the second pandemic wave is ebbing in Argentina, and in the last 30 days infections have fallen off by almost 60 percent and deaths by 53 percent.

This decline in the number of cases is taking place right in the middle of the campaign for the legislative primaries on Sept. 12, an election event that has motivated authorities to relax restrictions in most Argentine districts.

One sign of this is that fans will be allowed to occupy 30 percent of the seats at a soccer match on Sept. 9 between Argentina and Bolivia.

According to Geffner, there is “too much haste” being shown by the authorities, above all because it is still not known how the Delta variant is actually behaving in Argentina.

“Since we’re in an election period, everyone it making the same mistake. The idea they’re sowing is that you don’t have to stick to precautions, the use of facemasks and social distancing, but rather that the pandemic is over. It’s not over, either in Argentina or in the rest of the world,” the immunology expert said.


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