Venezuela Receives First Batch of COVAX Doses, Prepares for In-Person Classes

President Maduro announced schools would re-open in October, with children (ages 3-18) included in the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

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Venezuela is preparing to speed up its inoculation campaign and reach herd immunity by year-end. (Javier Campos/Getty Images)
Venezuela is preparing to speed up its inoculation campaign and reach herd immunity by year-end. (Javier Campos/Getty Images)
By Andreína Chávez Alava
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Guayaquil, Ecuador, September 9, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine doses through the United Nations’ COVAX program following months of delay.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) informed in a statement that the South American country "has received 693,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by China's Sinovac Biotech." The delivery took place on September 7 at the Simón Bolívar International Airport in La Guaira state and was welcomed by Venezuelan health authorities.

Likewise, the international health agency clarified that this is the first of several shipments to deliver a total of 12,068,000 doses— between China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm shots— that Caracas purchased via the COVAX mechanism last April. The statement added that the Venezuelan resources “have also been utilized to maintain the cold chain and ensure that vaccines are stored correctly” as well as “to procure syringes and other supplies.”

Although the dates for the next shipments remain unknown, PAHO’s Health Emergencies Director Ciro Ugarte said that the organization will look to "prioritize Venezuela in the access to vaccines.” During his weekly press conference, the official added that the next round would consist of an unspecified amount of Sinopharm doses.

For her part, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez expressed the country’s gratitude to the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom for helping solve “bottlenecks” that delayed the arrival of the long-awaited COVAX doses.

In April, Caracas completed its US $120 million payment to the COVAX mechanism through a Swiss bank UBS account. However, the institution blocked the final four transactions under pressure from Washington’s financial sanctions against the Caribbean country. In early July, the transfers were finally freed, and PAHO officials pledged to send vaccines between August and September.

The US unilateral measures have severely hampered Venezuela’s response to the Covid-19 emergency. Since 2017, Washington has imposed financial sanctions against the Central Bank and state institutions, effectively cutting the country off from the international banking system. Venezuelan authorities have had to deal with blocked transactions, as well as frozen or seized state funds and accounts abroad.

As a result, Caracas has faced complex difficulties in purchasing food, medical equipment, Covid-19 vaccines, fuel, and spare parts for the maintenance of public infrastructure.

Despite the challenges in acquiring coronavirus vaccines, the country kicked off its campaign in February with Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm, later adding Cuba’s Abdala. This week an additional shipment of the Russian dose also arrived in Caracas, which would address people who are reportedly waiting for their second shot after getting the first months ago.

According to PAHO, nearly 6 million Venezuelans have received their first shot and 3.3 million are fully inoculated so far (around 10% of the population). These numbers are expected to increase with COVAX’s 12 million doses covering approximately 20 percent of the population (roughly 5.7 million).

With COVAX finally starting to deliver doses, Venezuelan authorities have set in march a new phase in its vaccination program to reach a 70 percent immunization target (around 22 million people) by the end of the year. President Nicolás Maduro announced that children (ages 3-18) would receive their shots in October ahead of a return to in-person classes that same month.

“We will have vaccines for all our children and youth," Maduro said during a televised address on Sunday. The Venezuelan president explained that schools would follow the country’s 7x7 lockdown scheme, alternating weeks of in-person and online classes.

The kick off of face-to-face classes will follow a nationwide school rehabilitation plan beginning on September 16. For this purpose, Maduro called the Barrio Nuevo, Barrio Tricolor Mission and grassroots organizations to join the “One Drop of Love for my School” program to help educational institutions “open their doors this October.”

The Venezuelan government aborted previous efforts to return to in-person classes following new spurs of Covid-19 cases.

Currently, Venezuela still fares far better than its neighbors in Covid-19 contagions, despite recent hikes and the arrival of the Delta variant. As of September 8, the country totaled 11,878 active cases and 4,150 deaths, according to official data.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.

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