Colombia has become the first country in the Americas and only the third in the world to receive coronavirus vaccines under the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility, which is designed to ensure low- and middle-income countries get access to the medicines.
A plane carrying 117,000 doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine touched down in Bogotá on Monday.
“Colombia, with support from Covax partners, has worked incredibly hard to be in a position to be able to receive its first wave of vaccines from Covax, and I pay tribute to all of those who have prepared diligently for this arrival,” the WHO’s director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The Covax initiative was set up to ensure poorer countries do not lose out to richer nations in the rush for vaccines. It is backed by global vaccine alliances Gavi and Cepi and is designed to cover 20 per cent of citizens in participating countries by the end of the year.
Ninety-two of the poorest countries in the world should get the vaccines for free thanks to donations from wealthier nations while middle-income countries including Colombia will have to pay but should benefit from lower prices than they would if they were negotiating with pharmaceutical companies on their own.
In the Americas, Peru, El Salvador and Bolivia are also expected to receive vaccines through Covax’s first wave.
Colombia, with a population of 50m, has ordered 20m doses via Covax and has bought millions more through bilateral deals with producers.
The country, which has recorded nearly 60,000 deaths from the virus, started its vaccination rollout on February 17 — later than most other major Latin American nations — and has so far vaccinated only 130,000 people.
The government says it expects to vaccinate the entire population by the end of the year.