CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela will receive 5 million coronavirus vaccines via the COVAX program as of July and will seek to receive doses of the Johnson & Johnson inoculation, President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday. The South American nation this weekend announced the launch of a vaccination campaign following delays in obtaining inoculations due to payment problems, leaving it will behind most vaccination efforts in the region. The pandemic has been less severe in Venezuela than in other countries due to chronic gasoline shortages and early lockdown measures, according to research by local doctors and scientists. “(The) COVAX System has promised us more than 5 million doses of vaccines for the month of July,” Maduro said in a televised broadcast. “We are also looking for the Johnson & Johnson (vaccine), Janssen, have request it from the COVAX system.”
The COVAX facility, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), aims to secure 2 billion vaccine doses for lower-income countries by the end of 2021. The Pan American Health Organization, which fields media inquiries about the COVAX program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Venezuela this weekend announced it was starting a mass vaccination campaign by inoculating senior citizens who are part of a state identification system known as the Fatherland Card that has been widely criticized as a system that discriminates on the basis of political persuasion. Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said those who are not registered in the Fatherland Card system can request vaccines via the health ministry’s website. The government said it plans to distribute around 1.3 million doses in some 27 vaccination site throughout the country, without providing details on the location of those sites. The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for additional details. Venezuela’s government says it has received some 2.7 million vaccines this year from Russia and China. COVAX earlier this year set aside 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Venezuela. But Maduro’s government has prohibited the use of the vaccine following concerns about possible blood-clotting, concerns the World Health Organization said were not sufficient to warrant halting its use. The country has reported around 230,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 3,000 deaths. Doctors say the actual figures are likely higher due to underreporting and limited testing. The government is currently investigating whether the Indian variant has entered the country the country via Colombia, Maduro said.
(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Brian Ellsworth; editing by Diane Craft)