Covid-19 immunity testing is underway; Lockdowns will be a last resort, new health ministry says

Jun 9, 2021 | 15 comments

Beginning next week, the Ministry of Health will begin a nationwide testing program to determine how much of the population has been infected with the Covid-19 virus. Anti-body tests will be performed in all provinces and municipalities and could help determine how much of the population needs vaccines.

Additional doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived Tuesday in Quito.

“We have seen estimates that 50 percent to 70 percent of residents have been infected but we need to know for certain,” says José Ruales, deputy health minister. “If people have already contracted Covid-19, even if the case showed no symptoms, they may not need the shots and we can use the vaccines on those who are vulnerable.”

Following the broader testing program, Ruales says, individual testing could begin within a matter of weeks to determine if vaccine needs. “First, we must have a broad view of the country’s immunity level, then we can focus on personal cases and make decisions about who receives vaccines and who does not. The program must focus on protecting the unprotected, not those who already have high levels of immunity.”

On measures to prevent surges of Covid infections, Ruales said he does not anticipate future states of emergency for the pandemic. “If we see flare-ups of cases, we will target the areas where they occur and not issue large-scale restrictions. Such restrictions put a heavy burden on personal freedoms, businesses, employment and travel, and we will do all we can to avoid them. I do not anticipate an emergency like the one that ended three weeks ago.”

The number of Covid cases and deaths in Ecuador’s nursing homes is now a fraction of what it was before the vaccination program began, Ruales said. “Most of the elderly residents of these facilities, as well as the staffs, have received both doses and the improvement has been remarkable,” he says. “We are also seeing improvement across the population as a result of the observance of biosecurity measures, such as social distancing, as well as the rising number of those who have received vaccines. Hospitalizations are also dropping.”

Ruales said that about 11 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine while about 60 percent have received two.

He added that the government is optimistic that it can reach its goal of vaccinating nine million Ecuadorians by the end of August. “It appears that delivery of doses is increasing and will allow us to complete this pledge,” he said. “Depending on how many people have received immunity through natural infection, we may be able to reduce the nine million figure.”