Canada has enough vaccines on reserve to vaccinate every Canadian five times over. Despite headlines of shipment delays, just over three of every 100 Canadians have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, (with the goal of having all Canadians vaccinated by September 2021). Canada and other wealthy countries are monopolizing the market by using mechanisms like COVAX and by striking bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies to secure vaccine shipments, as countries in the Global South grapple with indefinite delays. 

Guatemala remains one of the last countries in Central America to begin vaccination. On February 25th, 5000 vaccines were donated by Israel for front-line health workers (Israel is beginning to donate surplus vaccines to countries with whom they have ‘close diplomatic ties’. Guatemala was identified as a recipient mainly through their support of diplomatic moves also taken by the United States such as the moving of their embassy to Jerusalem). However, the Ministry of Health has yet to confirm the arrival date for the first shipment of vaccines provided through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX mechanism, which includes doses for 423,600 people. This program is meant to ensure participating countries can vaccinate 20% of their population; 3.4 million people in Guatemala. However, President Giammattei’s administration has yet to establish any bi-lateral deals to acquire additional doses once the COVAX allotment is used. 

With these insecurities in procurement, the Ministry of Health released a plan this February detailing the strategy for the country’s vaccination.

      • Phase 1 (Maintain the integrity of the health system): a) Frontline healthcare workers, b) community health workers, such as midwives c) healthcare students d)  firefighters, emergency personnel, funeral and cemetery professionals e) personnel working in long-term-care-homes f) other health-care personnel. 
      • Phase 2 (Reduce mortality and burden of severe cases): a) adults  >70, >50 with comorbidities b) adults 50 – 69.
      • Phase 3 (Reduce socioeconomic impact + protect the continuity of basic services): a) national security, military, police b) personnel ensuring infrastructure such as electricity, water, garbage c) educational personnel d) justice personnel.
      • Phase 4 (Decrease the burden of disease): a) Adults 40 – 49 b) 18 – 39.

Analysts, including Zulma Calderón from the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office and LabDatos, a community organization whose mission has been to educate citizens throughout the pandemic, say that the plan will be ineffective beyond phase one for several reasons. Fundamentally, the plan is missing a communication and information strategy. It is reminiscent of the Bono Familia program implemented in 2020 to alleviate the economic pressures of the pandemic which failed to reach those most in need. This lesson demonstrates that a communications plan is integral to ensure the most at-risk populations are vaccinated.

The plan released by the Ministry of Health also reveals new epidemiological data, including the mortality rates of each municipality and the rates of contagion and mortality by employment sector. However, the plan does not yet make use of this data. It does not prioritize municipalities that have been hardest hit by COVID or groups of people experiencing increased mortality. Most concerningly, this includes individuals working in the agricultural sector. The current vaccine plan seeks to secure the integrity of essential services like healthcare, policing, and education but overlooks those who provide the most essential service: the small-scale farmers producing food.

Bar graph released in the national vaccination plan ranking agricultural workers 7th in confirmed cases of COVID-19Bar graph revealing agricultural workers rank 3rd for most deaths and have the highest mortality rate

Although individuals working in agriculture rank seventh overall for contagion, they rank third overall in deaths and the mortality rate for this demographic tops all other sectors. These indicators suggest a lack of access to health services and/or health services information in this demographic. Healthcare services could be inaccessible resulting in unidentified COVID cases, increased spread amongst rural communities, inadequate care in severe cases, and overall higher mortality. These impacts could continue to worsen if this data isn’t used to bolster the upcoming vaccination phases or a vaccination-communications plan. If individuals aren’t receiving the public health communications in order to identify or have the means to treat their symptoms as COVID in the first place, they will have difficulty accessing the vaccination program when eligible.

More information:

What is COVAX and why is Canada getting backlash for receiving vaccines from it?

LabDatos Guatemala

What do we know about the National Vaccination Plan?