Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 29, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela will receive the Sinovac and Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines through the United Nations’ COVAX program, with a first batch expected “in the coming weeks.”
"Official communications between the Covax mechanism and Venezuela have confirmed that the vaccines would be arriving between July and September, both Sinovac and Sinopharm,” confirmed Ciro Ugarte, Health Emergencies Director at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Ugarte explained that a series of necessary steps “are being completed rapidly so Venezuela receives a significant amount of vaccines in the coming weeks.”
On July 4, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro sent an ultimatum to the COVAX program after the country fulfilled its US $120 million financial commitments in April and two months went by without receiving the 11 million agreed upon shots.
The COVAX vaccines were delayed after the final four payments from Venezuela were blocked by Swiss bank UBS. The institution unofficially admitted over-compliance with US-led financial sanctions against the South American nation. Washington's coercive measures, imposed since 2017, have cut the country off from the international financial system, blocking payments, freezing or seizing state funds and accounts abroad. As a result, many banks are wary of processing Venezuela-related transactions.
On July 11, the blocked payments finally reached the COVAX accounts, and spokespersons from the program promised to allocate doses to Venezuela as soon as stocks were available.
Unilateral US measures, alongside secondary sanctions and threats against third parties, have seen Venezuela struggle to secure Covid-19 doses. The country lags behind its regional neighbors in the vaccination rollout and has turned to Russia, Cuba and China to acquire doses and begin its inoculation campaign.
Caracas has received a reported 3.5 million doses, between purchases and donations, which have been distributed in special centers nationwide. According to Reuters, 4 million doses have been administered, but a majority of Venezuelans have only gotten the first shot. Online publication "Our World in Data" estimates 3.9 percent (roughly 1.2 million people) are fully immunized so far.
Venezuela aims to immunize 70 percent of the population (some 22 million people) by the end of 2021.
The immunization plan is expected to speed up with the arrival of the COVAX vaccines, with the 11 million doses covering 5.7 million Venezuelans, around 20 percent of the population. Sinovac and Sinopharm, developed in China, were approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use. The two-dose shots have an efficacy rate of 51 percent and 79 percent, respectively.
Likewise, Venezuela has lined up a number of considerable Covid-19 vaccine purchases for the upcoming months. On June 24, the country received its first shipment of Cuba’s Abdala, a 30,000 batch under a 12-million dose contract, becoming the first foreign country to acquire the vaccine. The three-dose shot has a reported 92.2 percent effectiveness.
The Venezuelan government had previously signed an agreement to acquire 10 million doses of Russia’s EpiVacCorona doses and an equal number of Sputnik V, after hosting clinical trials. On May 15, Caracas also approved the single-dose Russian shot Sputnik Light, but no details on potential shipments and expected dates were disclosed.
Venezuelan health authorities likewise aim to locally manufacture Abdala, EpiVacCorona and Sputnik V jabs, with a 2 million monthly dose production goal of the Cuban vaccine set for August and September.
While the government waits for its immunization efforts to advance, the country continues to register a significantly lower Covid-19 spread than its neighbors. As of July 28, Venezuela reported 12,651 active cases and 18 new deaths, elevating the total figures to 302,988 and 3,542, respectively, since the pandemic started in March 2020.
Nonetheless, alarms were set off on Monday after President Maduro confirmed two cases of the Delta variant (first identified in India) were detected in the country. A young athlete and a 56-year doctor traveling from abroad have been isolated and are currently under treatment.
“We are facing a certain threat,” said the Venezuelan president, stating that the country will continue with its 7+7 scheme (alternating weeks of flexible and strict quarantine) after evaluating lifting the restrictive measures. According to the WHO, the Delta variant has reached 132 nations and the first vaccine dose does not offer enough protection against it, which means people are at risk in the period between the two doses.
Additionally, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez called the population to maximize biosecurity measures. "We cannot relax prevention, it is the best antidote against the virus," she wrote on Twitter.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.