If in South America vaccination against Covid-19 is going slowly in most countries, in Venezuela it can be said that little progress has been made so far. The lack of transparency of the Chavista dictatorship makes it impossible to know how many people were immunized or how many doses were applied, but due to the amount of vaccines that have arrived in the country of 28 million inhabitants so far (less than 800 thousand), it can be concluded that the campaign Venezuela’s immunization program is one of the most backward in the region.
Vaccination started in mid-February, after the first 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine arrived in the country. At the regime level, Covid-19’s frontline health professionals would be the first to be immunized, but health organizations in the country report that vaccinating politicians – who also had priority at the government level – began before thousands of health professionals were immunized. The deputies of the Chavista assembly, for example, were vaccinated in the first week of the campaign, when the doses were still being distributed to the interior.
Nicolás Maduro has had the support of two international partners to carry out the immunization of Venezuelans: China and Russia.
By the end of March, 250,000 doses of Sputnik V had landed in Caracas, resulting from a 10 million dose purchase agreement with the Russian government that, according to the Chavista government, will cost Venezuela US $ 200 million. This week, Russia and Venezuela signed several cooperation agreements during the visit of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov to Miraflores Palace. On the occasion, the Russian authority pledged to increase the delivery of doses of Sputnik V to Venezuela.
“We want to tell all the people of Venezuela that we will do our best to increase all vaccine supplies and supply and guarantee the vaccination of the Venezuelan people in the face of the fight against the pandemic,” said Borisov. A schedule for further submissions, however, has not been made public.
Borisov also said that Russia sent 1,000 doses of EpiVacCorona, developed by the Russian state laboratory Vector, for clinical trials to be carried out in Venezuela.
500,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine also arrived in Venezuela, donated by the Chinese government and which are being applied mainly to education professionals. But it is not known whether there is an agreement between countries for more doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to be sent to the South American country.
The Chavista dictatorship is also pinning hopes on vaccines being produced in Cuba. Maduro said last week that the Cuban Adbala vaccine, still in testing, should boost the massive vaccination of Venezuelans starting in July. In April, 60 thousand doses of the product should arrive in Venezuela for the third phase of clinical tests.
Cenabi (Venezuela’s National Bioethics Center) warned of the risks that Cuban vaccines can bring to the Venezuelan population. “The technological infrastructure of that country is obsolete and there is no reliable information on the results of phases 1 and 2 of the tests, which demonstrate the immunogenic capacity of the product. Phase 3, which is intended to be incorporated into our country, aims to assess the efficacy and safety of the product and involves the administration of placebo (an inert substitute for the ‘candidate vaccine’) in about half of the people included in the study ”, said Cenabi , who also criticized the government’s promotion of drugs against Covid-19 without a scientific basis, such as carvativir.
Agreement between Maduro and Guaidó
To boost immunization against Covid-19 in the country, the Chavista regime and the government of interim President Juan Guaidó – internationally recognized by more than 50 countries – established, at the beginning of the year, a negotiating table for Venezuela to gain access to the Covax, an international mechanism that aims to guarantee the distribution of immunizers to developing countries. The Chavista government was willing to join the initiative, but claimed that it had no money to buy the doses or to pay off the country’s $ 11 million debt to PAHO (Pan American Health Organization).
From the negotiation effort, brokered by PAHO and UNICEF and praised by the United States, Chavistas and opponents reached, in mid-March, an agreement that will allow Venezuela to enter the Covax and purchase 12 million doses of vaccines through the mechanism. The initial investment for admission to Covax will be US $ 18.1 million. That money – and another $ 12 million for investments in the refrigerator chain needed for vaccine logistics – will come from the release of resources “recovered from corruption in the Maduro management” that were frozen by the US Treasury Department. The total cost of the 12 million doses of vaccine, according to representatives of Guaidó, is US $ 120 million.
The release of the $ 30 million can take anywhere from three to five weeks, due to bureaucracy. For this reason, it was estimated that the first doses of Covax would arrive in Venezuela in May. Also in February, Opas had reported that 2.4 million doses of AstraZeneca, manufactured by South Korea’s SKBio, were reserved for the country.
However, the arrival of these long-awaited vaccines may take even longer. The Chavista regime says it will not allow the entry of AstraZeneca vaccines into Venezuela, citing side effects of the immunizer.
“Venezuela will not give permission for the Astrazeneca vaccine to be used in the immunization process of our population due to the complications that occurred with the vaccine in patients,” informed the executive vice president of the Republic, Delcy Rodríguez, on March 15. At the time, several European countries had temporarily suspended vaccination with AstraZeneca, due to reports of the appearance of blood clots in immunized people, but after a review by the European drug regulatory agency, these countries resumed inoculation with the product.
The dictatorship, however, has not changed its mind and, last week, reinforced its position. “No vaccine will enter the country, nor should it be sent, that has not been authorized by our national scientific institutes, by pharmacological institutes, by the country’s health authorities,” said Maduro.
A Bloomberg revealed on Tuesday (30) that Venezuela will propose the purchase of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, single dose, through the Covax initiative, instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which could further delay the arrival of vaccines in the country . According to the publication, the request will be made through the negotiating table between the regime and the opposition. If the proposal is approved by PAHO, Venezuela is unlikely to receive the vaccines until July, which is when Johnson & Johnson doses are due to be delivered to the organization.
Another effort to purchase vaccines for the country came from the private sector. Maduro authorized Fedecámaras (Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production) to buy 5 million doses of Sputnik V. Four million of them will be destined for workers of companies affiliated to the association and the rest will be donated to the government, so that they can be included in the plan national vaccination program.
The pandemic is advancing rapidly in Venezuela. Maduro last week announced a “radical quarantine”, which will remain in effect until at least this Sunday, to stop the spread of the P.1 variant, which is already in circulation in the country.
The situation in Venezuela is particularly worrying because the conditions in hospitals, which already suffered from a lack of resources before the pandemic, are very precarious. There are reports of a lack of protective equipment, supplies and medical staff in hospitals. Due to the lack of transparency in the regime and the persecution of critics, it is difficult to know what the real situation is in relation to the occupation of beds. However, the local press claims, based on reports from respondents, that service capacity is reaching its limit in some hospitals.
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