LIMA (Reuters) – Peru launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Tuesday with newly arrived doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, as the South American country struggles to control a fierce second wave of infections that has forced a lockdown in the capital, Lima.
Health officials kicked off the program in the intensive care unit of Lima’s Arzobispo Loayza Hospital, authorities said, where medical staff were slated to receive the first of 300,000 doses delivered on Sunday by Sinopharm Group Co Ltd.
Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti was vaccinated later in the day and urged vaccine skeptics to get inoculated. A survey by Ipsos Peru last month showed 48% of Peruvians would refuse to be vaccinated, citing fears of side effects.
“Do not be afraid of the vaccine. The vaccine is the best shield,” Sagasti said in a brief speech shortly before receiving his shot at a military hospital.
“We are betting as much as possible that all Peruvians can be vaccinated this year,” he added.
Coronavirus infections have spiked in Peru this year, bringing hospitals and the country’s ailing healthcare system to the brink of collapse. Authorities have detected both the Brazilian and British variants of the virus, officials said.
Peru, which was mired in a political crisis last year, initially lagged behind its wealthier neighbors in locking down COVID-19 vaccine deals.
The Andean nation has since signed agreements with U.S.-based Pfizer Inc , British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Sinopharm, and is also slated to receive vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program.
The country plans to begin immediately inoculating a million health officials, police and military personnel, among others, the government said, in a first round of vaccinations that will likely run through March.
Peru will then vaccinate 5.3 million elderly people, those suffering from pre-existing conditions and its native communities.
Peru’s deal with Sinopharm guarantees the country 38 million doses. A fresh batch of 700,000 doses is expected to arrive on Sunday, health officials said. Peru has tallied almost 1.2 million cases of COVID-19 and 42,400 deaths.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)