Venezuela’s vaccine drive sputtering due to lack of Russian doses

By Barbara Agelvis

Caracas, Aug 2 (EFE).- Venezuela’s government has been slow to administer Covid-19 vaccines to its population in part due to a total absence of Russia’s two-dose Sputnik V vaccine, a particularly urgent problem due to the presence in the country of the coronavirus’ delta variant.

Despite having an agreement in place for 10 million Sputnik V doses, Venezuelan authorities have publicly announced the receipt of just 1.43 million thus far and have not yet clarified the reason for the weeks-long delay.

The problem is a major cause of concern for Venezuelans over the age of 60, many of whom have waited nearly two months for a second dose that is supposed to be administered 21 days after the first one.

Russia has said as many as 180 days can elapse between the two doses, but the government’s silence has generated uncertainty and concern, the director of the non-governmental organization Medicos Unidos, Jaime Lorenzo, told Efe.

“You need to be certain, if there are going to be two doses, that you’ll have enough second doses to cover what you’re doing,” he said.

During a tour of different vaccination points in Caracas, Efe confirmed a total absence of the Sputnik V vaccine. And although employees at those facilities refused to speak on-camera, they confirmed that the only vaccine currently available is the one developed by China’s Sinopharm.

“They gave me Sinopharm’s Vero Cell,” Ildefonso Castan, a 60-year-old retiree, told Efe, adding that he has been satisfied with the immunization process.

But the situation is different for Sputnik V recipients like 65-year-old Sixta, who said she has repeatedly visited her vaccine center in a thus far fruitless effort to obtain her second dose.

Venezuela’s government has announced agreements to acquire 20 million vaccine doses from Russia (10 million of Sputnik V and an equal number of EpivacCorona), 12 million doses of Cuba’s Abdala vaccine and just over 11 million Covid-19 vaccine doses through the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative.

Caracas has not publicly announced the terms of the deal it reached with China.

Venezuela has received a total of 3,230,000 vaccines since February – 1.8 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and the 1.43 million Sputnik V doses.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez also announced the arrival of a shipment of Cuba’s Abdala vaccine (which has performed well in clinical trials), although she did not indicate the quantity.

Venezuela had vaccinated 3,612,473 people through July 25, according to figures from leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who pledged that 70 percent of the population (or 22 million people) would be vaccinated this year.

Critics, however, say the government is not keeping that promise.

Maduro’s administration has repeatedly blamed the delayed arrival of Covid-19 vaccine doses on sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and other countries, saying those shortfalls were being mitigated thanks to the efforts of allied countries like Russia and China.

Even so, the biggest snag in the immunization rollout has been the lack of Sputnik V doses.

Venezuela has reported 306,673 confirmed cases to date and attributed 3,607 deaths to Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

Authorities said a week ago that the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus had started to affect the country, prompting business groups and the political opposition to urge the government to speed up the vaccine drive. EFE


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