KEY POINTS

  • Health experts believe herd immunity occurs when 70% to 80% of the population is immune to COVID-19
  • Panama has vaccinated more than half of its population against COVID-19 
  • COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 4 million people worldwide

Panama is “weeks away” from COVID-19 herd immunity, with more than half of its population vaccinated against the virus, the country’s president said at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

During the session, Panama President Laurentino Cortizo said his country is close to achieving herd immunity after they managed to secure enough COVID-19 vaccine supplies to immunize a large portion of their population of 4.2 million people.

“Our country acted with foresight and we were able to procure sufficient safe and effective vaccines for our entire population,” he said, adding: “Thanks to that, we are only weeks away from achieving collective immunity.”

During his speech at the assembly, Cortizo urged other countries to work together to reach global immunity against COVID-19, which has so far claimed 4,727,498 lives worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“The goal cannot be that some countries reach herd immunity. The objective must be that we all reach global immunity,” he said. 

Many health experts have said that herd immunity occurs after 70% to 80% of the population becomes immune to COVID-19, either through vaccination or infection. However, some health experts have also cast doubt on reaching herd immunity, noting that novel coronavirus has mutated into new, more transmissible variants.

As of Thursday, Panama administered 5.3 million shots of its 7.2 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer-BioTech and AstraZeneca. The country has reported 465,147 COVID-19 cases and 7,183 coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, Reuters reported.

Cortizo’s speech comes after Panama approved a plan Wednesday to hand out AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine shots to people who visit the country as part of an effort to boost its tourism industry. 

Visitors will receive the AstraZeneca shots with an eight to 12-week interval between the two doses. 

It is unclear when the Panama government plans to push out the initiative. However, the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP) has required visitors hoping to receive a vaccine shot to stay at hotels registered with the agency for at least two nights, according to The Straits Times.

As of Sept. 16, all unvaccinated travelers arriving in Panama from countries classified as high-risk, including the United States, Cuba, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and South Africa, are required to present a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before their arrival. 

Travelers are also required to quarantine for 72 hours even if they test negative for COVID-19, according to an announcement from the U.S. Embassy in Panama. 

Panama is backing a tax reform agreement Panama is backing a tax reform agreement Photo: AFP / Luis ACOSTA