El Salvador hopes to vaccinate its way out of third wave of COVID cases

Daily confirmed cases

El Salvador is in the middle of a third wave of COVID-19 cases acknowledges the government.  The country recorded 324 confirmed cases on September 12, the highest confirmed daily total since mid-January of this year at the height of a post-holiday wave of cases.  The 324 cases equates to a high 13% test positivity rate on the approximate 2500 tests run by the government lab.  (The government does not report test results performed by private labs or other entities and has held the daily number of tests steady since May 2020).  

The official confirmed death toll is 3,043 out of 99,701 confirmed cases, for a mortality rate of 3%.  You can see a set of all the El Salvador confirmed COVID-19 information at Our World in Data.   The actual death toll is unknown but certainly much higher.

As always, the scarcity of quality data being released by the government continues to be a challenge in assessing the extent of the pandemic in El Salvador.   Other than the number of vaccinations each day, the government has ceased regularly updating its COVID-19 dashboard at covid19.gob.sv.  The government does not release statistics on the level of hospitalization or the levels of breakthrough infections.  The government does not provide information on the vaccination percentages by different age groups. 

A report in La Prensa Grafica on September 9 cited unnamed sources within Hospital El Salvador, the country's flagship hospital for treating COVID-19 patients, saying that the hospital was on the brink of collapse as a result of the surge in COVID patients and that all ventilators and all ICU beds were already in use.

In a press conference on Wednesday morning, Minister of Health Francisco Alabi said that additional beds can be brought online.  But the challenge for El Salvador is that the number of qualified intensive care practitioners can't be increased in the same way.   In other words, there may not be anyone to care for the people in those extra beds.

The primary response of the government to this surge in cases caused by the novel coronavirus is to continue its strong vaccination campaign, one of the leaders in the region.

El Salvador vaccination tally
Total doses, first dose, second dose
as of Sept 13, 2021

On Monday night Nayib Bukele announced on Twitter that the country is opening up COVID-19 vaccinations to children down to age 6.   Previously El Salvador had been vaccinating down to age 12.

In this morning's press conference Minister Alabi shared that for children in that age group, El Salvador will be vaccinating with an inactive virus vaccine, the Coronavac vaccine from China.    Alabi pointed to a Chinese study published in the medical journal the Lancet showing safety and efficacy of this form of vaccine in children in that age range. The Coronavac vaccine is also being used by Chile for children aged 6 and up starting a few weeks ago.  Alabi discarded criticism from the Association of Pediatricians of El Salvador that there had not been sufficient consultation on the decision to follow suit in El Salvador.  

Alabi was also asked whether the country was considering a quarantine or curfew as being put in place in neighboring countries seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.   He indicated there were no plans to do so, because there was sufficient hospital capacity and because El Salvador was in a different situation than those other countries with its high level of vaccination.

Schools continue in "semi-presencial" mode -- with classes being given both through guided remote instruction and in classrooms.  Stadiums are open for events such as recent world cup qualifying matches against the United State and Honduras, but only fully vaccinated fans were permitted to attend.   Public health messaging about the need for masks, washing hands, and social distancing continues on a regular basis.  Shopping malls, stores, bars and restaurants are all completely open.