What is behind the new rise in Covid-19 cases in the Dominican Republic?

On a walk in front of the regional hospital dr. Marcelino Vélez Santana in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, de la Nuez told CNN he was still in shock.

“My wife got Covid-19 10 days ago. She had a high fever. She also had very severe muscle pain that caused her to have seizures. Our baby girl died. When we went for the ultrasound, it was too late,” he said.

His wife is still recovering in the intensive care unit at the hospital. The de la Nuez family is one of many facing another wave of infections in this nearly 11-million-strong Caribbean country. Last week, 17 of the 18 beds in the intensive care unit were occupied at the same hospital, leaving only one ventilator.

Until recently, the Dominican Republican seemed to be heading for normalcy. In September, the Caribbean country was visited by a record number of tourists, and more than 2 million students in the public education system returned to personal tuition for the first time in more than a year. On October 11, the state of emergency was lifted in the country.

But was it too early?

Just as students returned to class, Covid-19 cases began to rise, according to data released by Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Less than two weeks later, Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), announced that the Covid-19 trend has declined in most of Latin America and the Caribbean, but the number of new cases has increased by more than 40% in the Dominican Republic. republic.

New variants, schools and vaccination rates

Jorge Marte, director of the Center for Diagnostics, Advanced Medicine and Telemedicine (CEDIMAT), one of the main hospitals in Santo Domingo, points to the expansion of new versions and the reopening of schools as important factors in the growing number of cases in the country. .

The State Ministry of Public Health was quick to try to take control of the new expansion, proclamation 8 Oct. new precautions requiring people 13 years of age and older to show a vaccination card or a negative PCR test to access public places such as schools and workplaces. Proof of vaccination would also be required for entry to restaurants, gyms and public transport.

But these measures could only go so far, says Marte, who says that despite the introduction of restorative vaccines, the entire vaccination campaign in the country has been insufficient.

According to the JHU, less than 50% of the total Dominican population was fully vaccinated. The government intended to vaccinate 70% of the eligible population in the country with at least two doses.

“We haven’t vaccinated the population goal we set for ourselves,” says Marte, who is also the president’s health adviser.

Dominican Health Minister Daniel Rivera described the revival of the virus as a crisis of unvaccinated people taxing health resources and occupying beds in the intensive care unit.

“Of the last 31 people who died, 29 were not vaccinated at all. And the only person who was vaccinated and died was a 68-year-old patient,” Rivera told a news conference last week.

Dr. Indira Jiménez, who is in charge of the Covid-19 unit at Francisco Moscoso Cuello Hospital, told CNN that 90% of infected patients who arrived at her hospital were unvaccinated or received only one vaccination.

“The number of infected patients has increased very noticeably. Those who are admitted to intensive care are already coming to us in critical condition,” Jiménez said. There were no ventilators available at all at her hospital on Friday.

However, the death rate is still much lower than in the previous days of the pandemic. Covid-19 killed 18 people in the last week, and 165 people died in the first week of February, the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the Dominican Republic to date.

Marte recently said he also noticed a new factor in Covid-19 hospitalizations.

He says only Sinovac, one of the vaccines the Dominican Republic has relied heavily on, has not yielded the results expected by health authorities, although final studies are still pending. The country has introduced accelerating lightning to strengthen protection, but these have not yet become widespread, so far only 1.2 million recipients.

In fact, the Dominican Republic was the first country in Latin America to approve booster injections, starting with its health workers in July. However, it was not the only country in the region to start complementing its Sinovac campaign.

After another devastating wave of infections, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced in early August that those who received two doses of Sinovac were eligible for booster vaccinations at AstraZeneca or Pfizer, starting with the elderly. And the Uruguayan Ministry of Health did a similar decision, opted for Pfizer booster injections to residents who received two doses of the Chinese vaccine.
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“With very objective data, I can tell you that there is a huge difference between those who received two doses of Sinovac and those who added a Pfizer booster dose to those two injections of Sinovac,” Marte said.

“There’s not a single individual across the country who would receive a Pfizer resuscitation and end up in the hospital.”

Marte also said that of the 17,000 Covid-19 patients seen at his hospital, only five contracted the virus after receiving Pfizer recovery vaccine. One was an 86-year-old patient and the other a 78-year-old who had diabetes and cancer. None of those five ultimately requested admission, he said.

Reporting was contributed by Jessica Hasbun in Santo Domingo, Rafael Romo in Mexico City and Valentina DiDonato in Atlanta.

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