BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has inked deals with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and AstraZeneca to provide 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, President Ivan Duque said on Friday.
The Andean country topped 40,000 coronavirus deaths and witnessed a new record for daily confirmed cases, reaching 13,277 on Friday. It has had nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases.
“We have closed a deal with pharmaceutical company Pfizer for the acquisition of 10 million doses. We have also closed a deal with AstraZeneca for the acquisition of 10 million doses,” Duque said on his nightly television broadcast.
The 10 million doses each from Pfizer and AstraZeneca and 20 million doses, which will be received through the COVAX mechanism will cover two doses for 20 million people, pending approvals by the national health regulator, Duque added.
“In the first weeks of 2021 we will be carrying out the process of mass vaccination,” he said.
Colombia will focus initially on vaccinating healthcare workers, those over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions like hypertension, HIV and diabetes. It will provide inoculation for free under its generous national vaccination plan.
The initial group set to be vaccinated comprises just over 11 million people, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said on the program. Recipients have already been identified by name using health data, he added.
About 1.2 million of the first group are healthcare workers, including clinic personnel like cleaners, Ruiz said. Many vaccinations in 2021 will take place in June, July and August.
The country will continue negotiating with companies to acquire more doses, Duque said.
Colombia authorities have repeatedly said vaccines like Pfizer’s, which require ultra-freezing will present logistical challenges, but that they are preparing cold storage.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, was once seen as the frontrunner in the development of a coronavirus vaccine, but has been overtaken by Pfizer, whose shots have been rolled out in Britain and the United States this month.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Aurora Ellis)