Maduro Proposes Vaccines-for-Oil Deal as Covid-19 Cases Reach Six-month High in Venezuela

Washington’s sanctions and freezing of Venezuelan assets abroad have hampered the country’s coronavirus response.

Venezuelan Vice-President for Communications, Culture and Tourism Freddy Ñáñez

Mexico City, Mexico, March 31, 2021 ( – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro proposed swapping oil for vaccines as the country deals with a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections with 10,397 active cases, marking a six-month high.

“Venezuela has the oil tankers, it has customers and I would destine a part of oil production to guarantee the vaccines that [the country] needs. Oil for vaccines, we are ready,” said President Maduro on Sunday.

US-led sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company have led to record low output of the South American country’s primary export. US pressure has caused many countries to refuse to trade with Caracas, with Washington going as far as seizing Venezuela-bound gasoline cargoes in international waters.

Maduro did not provide specifics but said the oil-for-vaccines proposal would help pay for the doses secured through the United Nations’ COVAX program, which is designed to provide vaccine access to low-income countries.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and UNICEF brokered an agreement between the government and the Washington-backed opposition sector led by self-declared “Interim President” Juan Guaidó to liberate US $30.3 million in Venezuelan funds frozen by the US government in order to acquire vaccines through the COVAX program.

However, the Maduro government said it would not accept the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns over side-effects and logistical considerations. Instead, authorities have opted to wait until the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available through the COVAX program, reported Bloomberg, given that it has a single dose and does not require refrigeration.

US-led sanctions and the seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad have impeded the country’s ability to secure more vaccines, with Venezuela instead relying on international partners such as China and Russia in order to obtain the doses the country requires to inoculate its population.

The Caribbean nation has signed deals to acquire 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V, with only approximately 250,000 delivered to date. Meanwhile, 500,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinopharm have thus far arrived in the country. Beijing has likewise extended aid to the country’s battered health sector, with a 35-ton shipment of medical supplies arriving from China on Tuesday, the 12th humanitarian aid delivery since the beginning of the pandemic.

During a meeting of the High-Level Russian-Venezuelan Intergovernmental Commission on Tuesday, Maduro also signed a deal to take part in trials of Russia’s EpiVacCorona vaccine, which was found to be safe and effective in clinical trials whose results were published earlier this month in the Infection and Immunity journal.

The Venezuelan president said the EpiVacCorona would be produced in the same facility where the country, with cooperation from Moscow, is producing insulin to address the significant shortages caused by US sanctions.

Venezuela’s official figures registered 1,206 new cases and 12 deaths in the last 24 hours, for a total of 159,149 cases and 1,589 deaths.

Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez expressed concern over the presence in Venezuela of the Brazilian variant of the coronavirus, which health experts believe is behind the recent hike in the spread of cases.

The Pan American Health Organization said on Wednesday that countries in the Americas could see a surge in cases, driven in part of the Brazilian variant, with Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Paraguay reporting the highest COVID-related death rates in recent weeks.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.