CARACAS – Venezuela launched the first stage of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout on Thursday, administering doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to front-line health care workers.
They were selected as a means of recognizing them for their efforts to combat this potentially fatal respiratory illness, which has killed nearly 1,300 people in the South American country, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said in a televised address.
“We’re very happy,” Rodriguez said after state-run VTV television showed footage of a woman being vaccinated. “We’re paying tribute in this way to all health care personnel ... the time has come for us to take care of them.”
Venezuela launched its inoculation rollout five days after last weekend’s arrival of the first 100,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.
Since the process takes no more than three minutes, authorities estimate that around 20 vaccines can be administered per hour, the senior official said.
The Nicolas Maduro’s administration expects that 70 percent of the population will be vaccinated by year’s end, according to Rodriguez, who said that proportion will allow the country to safely achieve herd immunity.
The VTV footage showed the initial doses being administered at a hospital in the central state of Miranda (near Caracas) that functions as a sentinel health care facility for COVID-19 patients.
Miranda Gov. Hector Rodriguez, a member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, said during the same televised address that around 80,000 COVID-19 patients have been treated at that hospital and that at least 700 of them required intensive care.
Around 7,000 health workers in that state will be vaccinated during the first stage, he added.
“It’s all that personnel who are being deployed door-to-door doing screening tests, all the personnel who are in the hotels (set up to isolate those) patients with moderate (COVID-19), patients who don’t need intensive care beds and all that personnel who are in the (government’s) six sentinel hospitals,” he added.
Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said for his part that Sputnik V is the safest COVID-19 vaccine developed thus far worldwide, while telling Venezuelans to remain calm because more doses are on the way.
“If all goes as expected, we’ll get to 70 percent of the population (vaccinated), which is the goal we have for reaching herd immunity,” he said.
Venezuela purchased 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia at a cost of $200 million, Maduro said Wednesday.
He added that expectations are that by April Venezuela will be in a “mass inoculation phase” and have at its disposal the vaccines developed by Cuba, China and Russia and those available through the Covax mechanism, a World Health Organization-led effort that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Final word on approval of the various vaccines, however, must come from the National Hygiene Institute, the head of state said.