Venezuela launches vaccination drive against COVID-19

Despite the harsh economic sanctions and commercial blockade against Venezuela imposed by the US and supported by the EU, the government of President Nicolás Maduro is making every possible effort to secure anti-COVID-19 vaccines

February 19, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Doctor Glendy Rivero received the first shot of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine on February 18 and became the first Venezuelan to be vaccinated in the country. Photo: Nicolás Maduro/Twitter

Venezuela launched its immunization campaign against COVID-19 on February 18, five days after the first batch of 100,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine arrived in the country from Russia. Doctor Glendy Rivero, from Miranda state, received the first shot of the vaccine and became the first Venezuelan to be vaccinated in the country.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sent Doctor Rivero his warm wishes and hailed the beginning of the vaccination process. “A big hug for you! We started this first phase of immunization on a good note, in this fight against the pandemic and for the defense of the health of the people,” wrote Maduro in a tweet.

Executive Vice-president, Delcy Rodríguez, also celebrated the commencement of the process. “Today is a historic day. Despite difficulties, criminal blockade, extortion and blackmail against Venezuela, we started the vaccination program for health personnel who are in the frontline of the battle against COVID-19,” wrote Rodríguez in an instagram post. The vice-president also thanked “the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin for his courage, for not submitting to any blackmail and extending his helping hand to Venezuela.”

The vaccination drive began in the Capital District and in the Miranda and Vargas states. In the next two weeks, the government will distribute the vaccine to all other states and the process will be extended to the rest of the national territory. In the first stage of vaccination, frontline healthcare workers and people vulnerable to the disease will be prioritized.

After them, the country’s teachers, 14,000 members of the “We Are Venezuela” movement -who distribute government aid to the vulnerable families at their doorstep-, military and police personnel, mayors, governors and members of the National Assembly will be vaccinated. The mass vaccination campaign for the rest of the population will begin in April.

The socialist government will provide free vaccines to all its 28 million citizens. It hopes to inoculate 70% of its population by the end of the year. For this purpose, the government has purchased 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. It is also negotiating with the World Health Organization (WHO) to get vaccines through the COVAX initiative, a global access fund for anti-COVID-19 vaccines.

Reportedly, the government is also coordinating with Cuba for the possible purchase of locally produced Cuban vaccines, such as Soberana 02 and Abdala, when ready. Soberana 02 of the Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV) and Abdala of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) both showed positive results during the second phase of clinical trials and will advance to the third phase in March.

Venezuelan government is facing additional challenges in fighting the pandemic. The country’s capacity to purchase vaccines has been severely hindered by the commercial blockade and economic sanctions imposed by the US and the EU against it. The country is unable to use its foreign assets worth billions of dollars and resources frozen in foreign bank accounts due to these sanctions.

However, despite these harsh unilateral coercive measures, the government of President Maduro is making every possible effort to guarantee full treatment to all COVID-19 patients in the country as well as to secure anti-COVID-19 vaccines.

As of February 19, Venezuela has registered 134,781 cases of COVID-19 and 1,303 deaths from the disease, with a recovery rate of 94%.