Walking outside the regional hospital Dr. Marcelino Vélez Santana in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, de la Nuez told CNN he is still in shock.
“My wife contracted Covid-19 10 days ago. She had a high fever. She also had very severe muscle aches that caused her contractions. Our girl died. When we went to get an ultrasound, it was already too late,” he said.
His wife is still recovering in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The de la Nuez family is one of many facing yet another wave of infections in this Caribbean nation of nearly 11 million. Last week, 17 of the 18 ICU beds in the same hospital were occupied and only one ventilator was left.
Until recently, the Dominican Republican seemed to be heading for normalcy. In September, a record number of tourists visited the Caribbean country, and more than 2 million students in the public education system returned to face-to-face classes for the first time in more than a year. The nationwide state of emergency was lifted on October 11.
But was it too early?
Just as students returned to classes, Covid-19 cases began to climb, data published by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) shows.
Less than two weeks later, Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), announced that while the Covid-19 trend was downward in most of Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of new cases in the Dominican Republic.
New variants, schools and vaccination coverage
dr. Jorge Marte, director of the Center for Diagnosis, Advanced Medicine and Telemedicine (CEDIMAT), one of the main hospitals in Santo Domingo, points to the spread of new variants and the reopening of schools as important factors in the rising number of cases in the country . .
But those measures could only go so far, according to Marte, who says that despite the introduction of booster vaccines, the country’s overall vaccination campaign has been inadequate.
According to JHU, less than 50% of the total Dominican population is fully vaccinated. The government has set a target of vaccinating 70% of the country’s eligible population with at least two doses.
“We have yet to vaccinate the population target we have set for ourselves,” said Marte, who also serves as a presidential health adviser.
Dominican Health Minister Daniel Rivera has described the virus’ resurgence as a crisis of unvaccinated people, straining health resources and occupying ICU beds.
“Of the last 31 people who died, 29 of them were not vaccinated at all. And the only person who was vaccinated and died was a 68-year-old patient,” Rivera said at 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 had received only one injection.
“There is a very noticeable increase in the number of infected patients. Those admitted to intensive care are already coming to us in critical condition,” Jiménez said. On Friday, there were no ventilators available at all in her hospital.
However, death rates are still much lower than in the early days of the pandemic. Eighteen people died of Covid-19 in the past week, compared to 165 deaths in the first week of February – the peak for Covid-19 deaths in the Dominican Republic so far.
Recently, Marte says he has also noticed a new factor in Covid-19 hospitalizations.
In fact, the Dominican Republic was the first country in Latin America to approve booster shots, starting with its health workers in July. However, it was not the only country in the region to begin to replenish its Sinovac campaign.
“What I can tell you with very objective data is that there is a huge difference between those who received two Sinovac doses and those who added a Pfizer booster injection to those two Sinovac injections,” Marte said.
“Across the country, not a single person has received a Pfizer booster shot and ended 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 the Pfizer booster shot. One was an 86-year-old patient and the other was a 78-year-old who suffered from diabetes and cancer. None of those five ultimately required admission, he said.
Reporting contributed by Jessica Hasbun in Santo Domingo, Rafael Romo in Mexico City and Valentina DiDonato in Atlanta.