Opposites: Should the covid-19 alert semaphore include the vaccinated population?

This week, President Alejandro Giammattei announced that the dry law hours were reduced, from 2 in the morning to 6 hours, this to encourage social gatherings and, in the background, further activate the economy after the contraction forced by the coronavirus pandemic .

In addition, it is expected that before the end of the year changes will be made to the covid traffic light and, among the changes, the variable of the percentage of vaccination will be included as a factor to consider to establish restrictions in municipalities.

This proposal could favor municipalities where vaccination has reached a larger population and would keep with stricter restrictions places with less vaccinated population, which opens a discussion on the technical and economic benefits that an eventual reform could represent.

Covid traffic light: “a tool that punishes the most vaccinated municipalities”

The epidemiological alert semaphore was prepared by the defunct Covid-19 Emergency Attention Commission (Coprecovid), which was headed by Dr. Edwin Asturias.

This tool allowed the gradual opening of various activities in Guatemala, including the public transport service, restaurants and shopping centers, all under the parameters stipulated by the system.

For this there are the following alert levels: red, orange, yellow and green, all depend on the percentage of infected people in each municipality, to date no municipality in Guatemala is in green.

Juan Carlos Zapata, executive director of the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (Fundesa), considers that this tool has been useful and the latest update highlights 20 municipalities in red alert, 35 in orange and 285 in yellow.

“There are more and more municipalities that are in yellow and that we would soon hope that little by little it will help the country reach normality, the technically correct thing is to use the traffic light,” he said.

Fundesa has been vigilant in the government response process to the pandemic, but considers it necessary that now this traffic light be modified and be able to measure the percentage of the vaccinated population.

Zapata believes that a measure of this type could help to create a better dynamic in places where residents have already complied with attending a vaccination center, he considers that this strategy is necessary.

“In other words, the municipalities that have a vaccination of more than 60% of the population in the first dose may have a different assessment for the restrictions imposed by the traffic light, because what we have seen is that as it is now, it is not taken into account vaccination ”, he explained.

If this does not happen, it will be difficult for Guatemala to reach the desired new normality, because the regulations currently set by the health authorities do not allow any municipality to reach the lowest alert level.

“At the international level, what many countries are doing is that they have made the way in which the traffic light colors are more flexible, they have relaxed the parameters on which it is evaluated, I think that in the case of Guatemala, this could be an opportunity in where it begins to expand the ranges so that municipalities reach green, now it is mathematically impossible, “he said.

Until now, the semaphore of epidemiological alerts has been in effect for more than a year, which in Zapata’s criteria has served for each municipality to establish limits to its population that allow controlling the passage of covid-19 in Guatemala.

“It has been very positive, it has helped to have a better technical reference on how to use the different provisions that the country requires, however we also have to be aware that it is a tool that punishes the most vaccinated and more urbanized municipalities because at this time it does not take vaccination into account ”, he pointed out.

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“The traffic light should reflect the situation of the pandemic and not of vaccination”

Since the semaphore of epidemiological covid-19 alerts started, some organizations have expressed doubts, one of them was the Data Laboratory, which has closely monitored the way in which the disease is being treated.

They consider that the alert system has been insufficient and that it presents several errors, among them measuring the incidence of cases hand in hand with the number of tests that are run, since there are many who decide not to take the test, and on other occasions health centers are insufficient to serve the population.

The foregoing would not give a real sample of the disease, which at the discretion of the entity allows the incidence or not of positive cases of covid-19 to be manipulated with great ease, since one thing is the tests that are run and another is the real number of sick people.

Óscar Chávez, an analyst at the Data Laboratory, highlighted as a first criticism that despite the fact that there are “supposed measures” based on the alert color, they have not identified differences between the municipalities.

“It has cost this tool to serve as an epidemic control and this is a problem that has to do with the measures, if a municipality is in red, orange or yellow it is practically the same, the measures are the same and one does not feel the differences In municipalities in red, everything is open and the Ministry of Health is not enough to verify the gauges, “he said.

He regretted that the Ministry of Health did not follow the guidelines of Congress to improve the alert system, but now it fears that the Government will listen to suggestions and may include the vaccinated population in the measurement system.

“Now they want the traffic light to include the issue of vaccination because it can be manipulated. Imagine that the capital has a high rate of cases but since 90% of the population has been vaccinated, it remains green, with this type of manipulation you have to be careful because the traffic light should reflect the situation of the pandemic and not of vaccination ”, he warned.

With this scenario, social neglect could increase, which in their opinion will cause a new wave of positive cases of covid-19, since the vaccine does not prevent a person from contracting the disease.

“If you vaccinate a whole municipality to open a certain trade, this does not mean that you cannot have an incidence of cases, you can do that (vaccinate the entire population) and after weeks have a peak of cases because, as there are no restrictions, people already nor will he use a mask, they will forget about distancing and there will be an increase in cases, he stressed that the traffic light should only reflect the pandemic and not vaccination, “he said.

Finally, Chávez explained that the State has used this tool as a non-pandemic economic control, “the traffic light has served as a tool for economic opening, it was because of the traffic light that the reopening was justified without any other control; and cinemas, shopping centers, restaurants and the entire industry could return under those criteria, knowing that those criteria imposed by the traffic light were not enough ”.


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