CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela is risking further delays to an already stalled COVID-19 vaccination campaign by seeking to use specific brands of vaccines while shunning readily available ones, opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Wednesday.
The COVAX global vaccine program has offered to sell doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Venezuela, pending a payment arrangement, but the government of President Nicolas Maduro blocked its use following concerns about blood clotting.
Guaido told a news conference that Maduro allies had internally discussed the idea of seeking out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but that they had not mentioned it in talks with the opposition or formally requested access to the vaccine.
“Insisting on one type of vaccine over another means delaying, it means complicating” the vaccination campaign, he said. “There are not enough vaccines on planet Earth to meet the needs at this time.”
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The J&J vaccine is one of the most sought-after shots because it inoculates in a single dose and is thus cheaper and logistically simpler.
Venezuela has received 750,000 vaccines via Russia and China but has one of the region’s lowest vaccination rates. The shots have mostly gone to healthcare workers, although the country recently began inoculating senior citizens.
The Venezuelan Social Security Institute said last week it planned to notify senior citizens about vaccination opportunities via an identification system called the Fatherland Card, that has been widely criticized as a mechanism to deny social benefits to those who criticize the government.
That has spurred criticism that the government could deny access to the vaccine to citizens who do not have the Fatherland Card, which is separate from the national identification cards required for all adults.
It was not immediately evident if anyone had been denied the vaccine for not having the Fatherland Card. Some citizens who do not have it say they have been vaccinated.
The Venezuelan Social Security Institute did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Venezuela as of Tuesday had recorded a total of 176,972 COVID-19 cases and 1,815 deaths.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)