Argentina began to vaccinate its citizens against the coronavirus on Tuesday, administering the first of 300,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine delivered last week, the government said.
Latin America’s third-largest economy has been hard hit by COVID-19. Argentina, a country of 45 million people, has recorded nearly 1.6 million infections and almost 43,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Medical workers began receiving the vaccine and officials insisted it was safe. President Alberto Fernandez called it the largest vaccination campaign in the country’s modern history.
Teachers, those with complicating medical conditions and people over 60 were to be next in line in Argentina, which so far has received 300,000 doses, which also will be free and voluntary.
Argentina became the third country to approve the Sputnik V vaccine, after Russia and Belarus.
Russia has been widely criticised for giving the domestically developed Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after the vaccine only had been tested on a few dozen people. An advanced study started shortly after the vaccine received the Russian government’s go-ahead.
Russia says the criticism is unfounded and health officials claim the study has now covered more than 30,000 people, with data suggesting the virus was 91 percent effective.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to a single-component option as a “light-vaccine”, which he said would provide less protection than the two components, but “will still reach 85 percent” effectiveness.
Argentine Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia stressed the vaccine was safe while speaking to reporters on Tuesday: “You have to be afraid of the disease, not the vaccine”.
The Reuters news agency reported on Monday that the vaccine sent to Argentina – Russia’s first major international shipment – consisted only of the first dose of the two-shot vaccine, which is easier to make than the second dose.
Russian and Argentine officials did not immediately comment on when the second dose might arrive.
Argentina has also approved the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech.