Guayaquil, Ecuador, May 13, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced the imminent arrival of single-dose Sputnik Light and Johnson & Johnson vaccines as well as a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, produced by the Belgian pharmaceutical Janssen, would be acquired through the United Nations' COVAX program as part of the recent purchase made by the Venezuelan government.
The Maduro government reported a US $128 million COVAX vaccines payment in April. The purchase was allegedly made possible after Caracas accessed funds blocked by Washington’s unilateral coercive measures.
Ciro Ugarte, Health Emergencies director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said at a press conference on Wednesday "there is a probability Venezuela would receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or others that are available [...] in mid-June, end of June." He confirmed the Maduro government “had made additional payments [for COVAX] on account of the balance that still exists,” which was “approximately 18 million dollars" until a few days ago.
The COVAX vaccines will cover 5.7 million Venezuelans, roughly 20 percent of the population.
During clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine showed 85.4 percent efficacy 28 days after administration. The single-dose jab was effective against several virus variants, including B1.351 (identified in South Africa) and P.2 (identified in Brazil). The vaccine was greenlighted by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
For its part, Sputnik Light is the fourth vaccine released by Russia and the second one acquired by Venezuela after Sputnik V. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) stated the one-shot dose is 79.4 percent effective 28 days after vaccination.
Sputnik Light also proved to be effective against all new coronavirus strains and had no serious side effects on patients.
Earlier this year, the government announced a 10 million Sputnik-V vaccines purchase and has received a reported 900,000 doses to date. However, it's not clear whether the original agreement will contemplate the acquisition of Sputnik Light.
Venezuela has received six shipments of Sputnik V. (Twitter/@AlvaradoC_Salud)
Sputnik Light and Johnson & Johnson have the advantage that they can be stored at temperatures ranging from two to eight degrees Celsius, which means conventional refrigerators without additional cold-chain infrastructure would be enough.
In that regard, Venezuela has received 50 freezer containers, out of 100 pledged by UNICEF, to "support the country's efforts to plan the introduction and deployment of vaccines," stated Melvin Moran, the agency's immunization specialist, in a tweet. The refrigerators can hold some 8,500 doses.
President Maduro highlighted that both Sputnik Light and Johnson & Johnson being single-dose jabs would allow a faster inoculation process than double-dose alternatives, opening the path for a mass vaccination campaign.
"In May, vaccination will accelerate and June, July and August will be the months of a vaccination offensive,” aiming to immunize 70 percent of the population (some 22 million people), he said in a live broadcast on state television on Tuesday.
The South American country’s vaccination process lags behind regional neighbors, with the Venezuelan government denouncing that US-led sanctions have hindered the nation’s response to the pandemic. So far, Caracas has received 1.4 million vaccines, between Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm donations, reported Health Minister Carlos Alvarado. Health workers, teachers, security forces, people with high-risk diseases and the elderly have been prioritized.
Additionally, Venezuela has made deals to produce the Cuban Abdala vaccine, which is about to be rolled out in Havana’s vaccination campaign, and is participating in Russia’s EpiVacCorona clinical trials.
While the country waits for the immunization campaign, Maduro urged a redoubling of biosafety protocols and compliance with the 7+7 scheme (alternating weeks of flexible and strict quarantine) to avoid a rebound of Covid-19 cases. "The moment of absolute normality is not here, and it’s not on the horizon yet," he warned.
According to Venezuelan authorities, the nation has managed to contain a second wave of Covid-19 cases spurred by more infectious virus variants from Brazil, although daily numbers remain around 1,000. On Wednesday, May 12, the country registered 832 new cases and 17 deaths, elevating the figures to 210,948 and 2,337, respectively.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Sarare.