What is happening in Latin America with vaccine roll-out?

In Latin American and the Carribean region, so far, nine countries have begun inoculating their populations against COVID-19 and all of them are providing free vaccination to all citizens

February 16, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
Edin Maldonado, Bolivian healthcare worker, received the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in Argentina on December 31. Photo: Kawsachun News

Several countries across the world have begun mass vaccination programs to protect citizens against COVID-19, which has infected over 109 million people worldwide and killed more than 2.4 million people globally since December 2019. In Latin American and the Caribbean region, so far, nine countries have started vaccinating their populations. In this first part of our vaccine roll-out overview of Latin America and the Caribbean, we look at several countries that have begun vaccination.

Mexico

Mexico was the first Latin American country to administer its citizens with COVID-19 vaccine. The first doses of the US-based Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in the country from Belgium on December 23. The next day, on December 24, the country launched its vaccination drive and began inoculating frontline healthcare workers.

The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has promised to immunize its 128.93 million people for free. For this purpose, the government has allotted about 1.6 billion USD to acquire vaccines and support the entire national vaccination campaign. The country hopes to vaccinate up to 80% of its population by July. In order to achieve this goal, the government authorities have signed deals with at least five different pharmaceutical companies.

The country has already purchased 34.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 77.4 million doses of the UK-based Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, 24 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, 35 million doses of the Chinese one-shot CanSino vaccine. The country has approved the emergency use of China’s two-dose CoronaVac developed by the Sinovac Biotech company. Mexico with its share of the UN’s COVAX initiative, a global access fund for anti-COVID-19 vaccines, expects to receive 34.4 million doses of other vaccines.

However, due to delays in production and distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, as of February 13, only 726,313 people have been vaccinated. The Mexican government’s current goal is to immunize one million doctors and nurses, and 15 million elderly people by the end of March. The campaign for teachers and people with chronic diseases will be launched in April.

Chile

Chile became the second Latin American nation to start its inoculation program against COVID-19. The country began immunizing its healthcare workers with Pfizer vaccine, on December 24, the same day as Mexico. The first batch of vaccines arrived in Chile from Belgium the same morning.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has also announced free vaccination for its 19.12 million citizens. Chile plans to vaccinate more than two third of its population during the first semester.

The country has secured 30 million doses of vaccines from different suppliers: 10 million doses each of the Pfizer and Sinovac vaccines, 6 million of the AstraZeneca and the rest from the US-based Johnson & Johnson and the global vaccine-supply program, COVAX.

Until February 14, 1.9 million Chileans have received a dose of vaccine. The country aims to administer vaccines to 5 million health workers, elderly people and people with chronic illnesses by the end of March, and to 10 million other people by the end of June.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the third country in the region to begin the vaccination drive on December 24. Same as Mexico, the country received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine from Belgium on December 23, and began administering it to its elderly people and health workers on December 24.

The administration of President Carlos Alvarado has also declared to vaccinate its entire adult population (over 18 years of age), which is 3.7 million, for free. The Central American country hopes to vaccinate 3 million people, about 80% of the population, by the end of 2021.

Costa Rica has purchased 3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, applied for 1.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX program.

As of February 8, 75,113 vaccine doses have been administered to the people.

Argentina

Argentina started COVID-19 immunization on December 29, after the first batch of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine arrived in the country on December 24, with priority given to healthcare workers, elderly people and security personnel.

President Alberto Fernandez also announced free vaccination for its 34 million people over 18 years. The authorities aim to administer vaccines to 30 million people in the first six months of this year.

The government has signed deals to obtain between 10 and 25 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, 23.6 million of the Covishield vaccine, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca company and produced by the Serum Institute of India, and 9 million from the UN COVAX mechanism. Besides, the government is also negotiating with Chinese and American companies.

As of February 14, 609,605 people have been given a dose of vaccine.

Brazil

Brazil kicked off its nationwide vaccination campaign on January 18, a day after the country’s National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) approved the emergency use of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines. Healthcare workers in São Paulo were the first ones to be immunized with Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly undermined the threat of COVID-19 and has faced increasing criticism for his handling of the pandemic and vaccine roll-out, also announced that vaccines would be free for all 212.5 million Brazilians, but not mandatory. The government plans to inoculate 177 million people by the end of this year.

The country has signed agreements with both the Chinese and British pharmaceutical companies to locally produce the two vaccines. State-owned Fiocruz laboratory will produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, while Sao Paulo state government’s Butantan Institute will produce the CoronaVac vaccine. The country has 6 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine and 2 million ready-made AstraZeneca doses imported from India. It is hoping to produce 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by July, 110 million more doses by December, and 100 million doses of the Sinovac during the course of the year. It is also expecting to receive 42.5 million doses via COVAX facility.

As of February 14, 5.24 million people have been vaccinated. The government aims to administer vaccines to 51 million people, less than one quarter of its population, by June 2021. After health workers, elderly people, disabled people, and Indigenous people will be vaccinated.

Panama

Panama began vaccinating its citizens on January 20, the day the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in the country, prioritizing immunization of its health workers.

President Laurentino Cortizo assured that each of its 4.2 million citizens will have access to two doses. The government hopes to inoculate 80% of its population by the end of this year.

The country has bought 3 million doses of the Pfizer, 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca, 300,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccines and is holding negotiations with Russia to acquire 1.5 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. It expects to receive some 1.3 million doses from COVAX plan.

As of February 11, 12,441 vaccine doses have been administered to health workers. When the first batch of 12,840 doses arrived in the country, the government had announced that it would ensure complete vaccination of 6,420 people with the amount. In the first phase, health personnel, bedridden elderly people, members of security forces and persons over 16 with disabilities will be immunized. The second phase will target the rest of those over 60 and the chronically ill. In the third phase, Indigenous people from remote areas will be covered. Finally, the rest of the population will be vaccinated.

Ecuador

Ecuador began the vaccination drive against COVID-19 on January 21, the same day the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in the country. Ecuador began immunizing its health workers, elderly people and their assistants.

The government of President Lenin Moreno also announced that it will vaccinate all adults (14 million people) for free by the end of the year. For this purpose, it will invest about 200 million USD.

The country has signed contracts with various pharmaceutical companies. It will receive 2 million doses of the Pfizer, 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca, 4 million from the US-based Covaxx company’s vaccines. It also hopes to get another 8 million doses from the COVAX initiative.

As of February 4, only 6,228 Ecuadorians have received a shot of the vaccine and the government has been under fire after news broke that the Minister of Health vaccinated his family members.

Bolivia

Bolivia started its immunization campaign on January 29, a day after the first batch of the Sputnik V vaccine arrived in the country. Bolivia too gave preference to its health workers.

President Luis Arce also announced that his government will provide free vaccines to all Bolivians over 18 years of age (7 million). The government hopes to vaccinate 80% of its population by the end of the year.

The country has purchased 5.2 million doses of the Sputnik V and 5 million of the Covishield vaccines. Recently, it also reached an agreement with the Chinese state-owned Sinopharma company to receive half a million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, of which 100,000 doses have been donated by China to the country. Bolivia is also expecting to receive 900,000 more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the WHO supported COVAX distribution system.

As of February 11, 10,167 people have been vaccinated in Bolivia. The government’s current objective is to inoculate up to 20% of its population by March. The mass vaccination campaign will start this week or next.

Peru

Peru began vaccinating citizens on February 9, two days after the Sinopharm vaccine arrived in the country. The campaign was launched in cities with highest rates of infection, giving priority to redline health workers.

President Francisco Sagasti also declared free vaccination for all citizens. His administration plans to immunize around 15 million people, about half of the population, by June.

The government has reached deals to buy 38 million doses of the Sinopharm, 20 million of the Pfizer and 14 million of the AstraZeneca vaccines. The country will also receive 13.3 million vaccines from the COVAX mechanism.

As of February 14, 75,430 Peruvians have been administered with a dose of the vaccine.

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