By Anthony Boadle 

  BRASILIA (Reuters) -COVID-19 deaths and infections have declined across the Americas for the 8th consecutive week, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, warning that a very high percentage of hospitalized cases now are unvaccinated people. 

  In North America, all three countries reported drops in weekly cases and deaths, and there has been a notable decline in hospitalizations in the United States and Canada, PAHO said, with similar declines in South and Central America. 

  The regional health branch of the World Health Organization said 46% of the Latin American and Caribbean population have been fully vaccinated, and a majority of countries have already reached the WHO's 40% vaccination coverage target set for the end of the year. 

  "Vaccine inequity remains the biggest barrier to reaching our coverage targets," PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said in a briefing. 

  Given the limited supply of vaccines, he urged authorities to prioritize the elderly, frontline workers, and people with pre-existing conditions, to protect them and also to prevent health systems from becoming overburdened with severe cases. 

  PAHO recommends providing booster doses to people who are immunocompromised, including cancer patients, HIV positive individuals, patients on corticoids and transplant recipients. 

  PAHO said people over the age of 60 who received inactivated virus vaccines made by China's Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm should also get booster shots. 

  Barbosa dismissed as "fake news" the view that people who had coronavirus are immune to COVID-19 and do not need to get vaccinated. He pointed to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study published on Friday that found people who are not vaccinated but previously tested positive are 5.49 times more likely to get reinfected than those who are fully vaccinated. 

  In Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, a vaccine skeptic who caught COVID-19 in July 2020, has said he is immune and has no need for a vaccine. 

  "That is not true. It is fake news," Barbosa said. "The protection the disease gives you naturally is insufficient and people can get infected with the new variants," he said. 

  (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Giles Elgood) 

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