Maduro: COVAX ‘Owes a Debt’ to Venezuela

The Venezuelan president said the country was facing a lobbying effort to hamper the country’s ability to purchase vaccines.

A health professional injects a senior woman
Venezuela is in the midst of a mass vaccination effort and aims for 70 percent of its population to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Mexico City, Mexico, June 9, 2021 ( – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro lashed out at efforts to deny the country access to vaccines.

In a televised address on Sunday, the Venezuelan president accused the opposition and “organizations of US imperialism” of engaging in a lobbying campaign to stop vaccine producers from selling doses to the South American country.

“Venezuela might be the only country in the world that is subject to a persecution against its right to freely purchase vaccines,” said the president, “Venezuela is besieged so that it cannot buy vaccines.”

Maduro also criticized the World Health Organization for delaying the delivery of vaccines through the United Nations COVAX program, which is meant to provide access to COVID-19 jabs to lower-income countries.

“The Covax system owes a debt to Venezuela. We made a deposit in April and we are waiting for the vaccines,” said Maduro.

The president’s comments came after Ciro Ugarte, Health Emergencies Director at the Pan American Health Organization, claimed that Venezuela had an outstanding debt of US $10 million in relation to payments for the COVAX program.

In response, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza explained that Venezuela has paid its COVAX contribution in full, but that Swiss bank UBS had blocked some payments and placed them “under investigation.” Arreaza labeled the decision “a crime.”

Maduro said he expected COVAX to deliver “many millions” of doses in July and August and added that Executive Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez would be tasked with ensuring the vaccines are delivered.

Despite the delays, the country has begun a mass vaccination effort after securing several million doses from China and Russia, with special centers set up throughout the country and people summoned to be vaccinated via text messages. Health authorities aim to have is 70 percent of the population immunized by the end of the year.

Maduro added that his government has deliberately restrained from making announcements about vaccine purchases due to fears that the deal could be sabotaged at the last minute. Authorities have previously been vague about the source of funding for certain vaccine deals.

US Ambassador to Venezuela James Story, who is based in neighboring Colombia, stated recently that the US would refuse to donate coronavirus vaccines to Venezuela but later denied that Venezuela would be excluded. A report from the US Department of Health and Human Services revealed that Washington pressured the Brazilian government not to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

After coming under pressure for acting slowly to provide coronavirus vaccines to lower-income countries and the failure of the Joe Biden administration to address the disparities in vaccination between rich and poor nations, the US secured a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to provide 500 million doses to about 100 countries.

Venezuela faces a unique challenge in its effort to vaccinate its population. As a result of unilateral US sanctions and the seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad, the government has struggled to secure doses for the country’s population, resulting in a vaccination process that lags behind regional neighbors. Venezuela has instead relied on international partners such as China and Russia.

Venezuela is due to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, produced by the Belgian pharmaceutical Janssen, through the United Nations’ COVAX program after the country rejected the AstraZeneca vaccine due to health and logistical concerns. The AstraZeneca vaccine’s cold-chain infrastructure would have imposed a considerable logistical challenge.

President Maduro likewise expressed interest in the Russian single dose Sputnik Light vaccine, while authorities signed a deal in Saint Petersburg last weekend to acquire the EpiVacCorona vaccine, also developed in Russia. However, no details on the amount of shots and delivery times were disclosed.

Official figures reported 1,679 new cases of contagion detected in the last 24-hour period, for a total of 17,284 active cases and authorities have registered 2,750 deaths.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.

This story was updated on 10-06-2021 to include comments from Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.