Omicron surge in Brazil hospitalizing the unvaccinated

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — There has been a new wave of COVID-19 in Brazil with the spread of the omicron variant and, like elsewhere in the world, it is largely an unvaccinated pandemic.

Brazil averaged 162,000 confirmed cases in the week to Jan. 26, down from a 20-month low of around 3,000 in late December, according to Our World in Data, an online research site. Deaths have climbed to an average of 370 a day, five times more than earlier this month, but down sharply from a year ago.

“We see that the people who are hospitalized are those who have not been vaccinated or who have not completed the three doses, who have comorbidities,” Dr. Rafaela Ribeiro told The Associated Press inside l intensive care unit at his hospital in Marica. , in the metropolitan area of ​​Rio de Janeiro. “This time, the medical team is better prepared. At first, we didn’t really know how to go about it. It was chaos.

While cities like Rio moved quickly to vaccinate their populations — 98% of adults received two shots or just one Jannsen shot — other parts of the country are lagging behind.

States in the northern region, home to the vast Amazon rainforest, are among those with the lowest vaccination rates in the country, according to the confederation of state health secretaries. In Amazonas state, the number of new infections last week hit its highest since the pandemic began in 2020, and more than double the level recorded last year when its health system collapsed. While hospitalizations for severe respiratory distress and deaths have increased in recent weeks, both remain well below levels seen a year ago.

Following a delay in rolling out its vaccination campaign, Brazil has since caught up with many countries and passed others. According to Our World in Data, 70% of Brazilians have received both injections, compared to 63% in the United States. Only 40 million people – in a country of 214 million people – have received booster shots, according to government data.

Over the weekend, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga was in the Amazonas capital of Manaus to promote the vaccination effort. And on Wednesday evening, back in the capital Brasilia, he said Brazilian hospitals were stronger than last year, when the death toll from COVID-19 exceeded 4,000 a day, and again underlined the need for vaccines.

“It is fundamental that we increase the coverage of the second dose. There are still states where this coverage is not as broad as in larger (more populated) states,” Queiroga told reporters, adding that he encouraged children and adolescents to get vaccinated.

But the Brazilian government has delivered mixed messages on vaccines. President Jair Bolsonaro is an outspoken skeptic who refuses to vaccinate himself, opposes vaccinating children and has warned of potential side effects. Tens of millions of doses have been given to children worldwide and serious side effects have been rare, and the risks are lower than those of serious illness from COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health included children aged 5 to 11 in its vaccination plan on January 6. Yet a January 20 technical memo from the ministry contained a chart claiming that the vaccines had not been shown to be safe or effective in treating COVID-19. — and that the antimalarial hydroxycholorquine had. Extensive tests have long shown that it is not effective against COVID-19.

The ministry withdrew the technical note following an outcry from health experts and released a new one without the chart.

Although this wave of COVID-19 is not causing the same level of serious illness or death, concern over rising cases has led local leaders to cancel or postpone upcoming carnival festivities, including the world-famous parade in Rio de Janeiro which was postponed to April.

The increase in hospitalizations also led the Health Ministry this week to maintain funding for additional COVID-19 intensive care beds for another month, the ministry said in a statement.

Among those hospitalized in the state of Rio de Janeiro, 88% have not completed their vaccination program, according to the press office of the state health secretariat.

Hospital infirmaries are facing the greatest demand right now, not their intensive care units as happened last year, according to Alberto Chebabo, the vice president of the Brazilian Society of Infectiologists.

“The majority of serious cases are in older people, especially older people who have not completed a vaccination program,” Chebabo said in a video call. “The risk of hospitalization for an elderly person with incomplete vaccination is 17 times higher than for elderly people with two doses or three doses.” ___

AP videojournalists Mario Lobão, Lucas Dumphreys and Diarlei Rodrigues contributed from Marica.

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