Colombia has become the first country in the Americas to receive a shipment of coronavirus vaccines through the United Nations-backed COVAX programme, receiving 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Monday.
The shipment’s arrival in the capital, Bogota, came a few days after the anniversary of the first COVID-19 case in Latin America.
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Colombia has been one of the region’s hardest-hit countries, registering over 2.25 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 60,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
“Today marks a very important milestone, today COVAX makes its first delivery in the Western Hemisphere, and the first country to receive it is Colombia,” President Ivan Duque said in a statement.
COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, aims to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people are inoculated and that low- and middle-income countries have equitable access to vaccines.
But the initiative has been hampered by the severely limited global supply of doses and logistical problems. Although it aims to deliver two billion shots this year, it currently has legally binding agreements only for several hundred million shots.
“The arrival means that more health workers and high-risk populations can begin to be vaccinated,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic can only end if vaccination occurs in an equitable way, and I am truly delighted to see vaccine doses in South America and other regions begin to be rolled out this week through COVAX.”
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said it expects to increase vaccine access in Latin America through COVAX and has announced plans to bring about 280 million vaccines to the Americas and the Caribbean by the end of the year.
The organisation said in a statement on Monday that 36 countries in the region will receive Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines through the initiative.
Of those, 26 will do so through their own funds while 10 will receive the vaccines for free.
Peru, El Salvador, and Bolivia are expected to receive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as part of the “first wave” of COVAX shipments, PAHO said in its statement.
Colombia began its COVID-19 vaccination campaign last month.
The government has said it aims to vaccinate 35 million people this year, including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who are currently living in the country.