Venezuela kicks off Covid vaccine program

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Venezuelan airport workers place packages containing 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 in a refrigerated truck at the Simon Bolivar international airport in La Guaira, Venezuela on February 13, 2021

Venezuela started immunizing health care workers against the coronavirus Thursday with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, as the government said it intended to inoculate 70 percent of the population by year end.

Glendys Rivero, a 37-year-old surgeon from Los Teques in the country's north, was the first to receive one of the 100,000 doses to have arrived so far.

"We started this first phase of immunization on the right foot, in this fight against the pandemic and for the defense of the health of the people," President Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter.

Along with medical personnel, police, soldiers, parliamentarians and other public servants will be among the first to receive jabs in Venezuela's vaccination program.

Elderly people, particularly vulnerable to the virus, were not singled out in the timetable announced Wednesday by Maduro, who said mass immunization of the general public will begin in April.

Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said 70 percent of Venezuelans should be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Venezuela has agreed to acquire 10 million doses of Sputnik V for $200 million and has reserved 1.4 to 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab through the World Health Organization's Covax system.

There is no fixed timetable for future deliveries.

The Pan-American Health Organization said Wednesday that Venezuela needs to send an $18 million deposit before it can start receiving the doses it has reserved.

Venezuela, which took part in Sputnik V clinical trials, has officially recorded more than 134,000 cases and 1,297 Covid-19 deaths -- data that is questioned by organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

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