Colombia prepares for vaccine, with one million coronavirus cases
BOGOTA (COLOMBIA) – The lifesaving vaccines for everything from yellow fever to polio were set in a warehouse near Bogota’s airport, awaiting transport to the furthest reaches of Colombia.
The tall shelves at a chill 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) have half the space, leaving plenty of room for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.
Colombia exceeded 1 million infections on Saturday afternoon, becoming the eighth country to have reached the same, tallying 1,007,711 confirmed infections and 30,000 deaths.
This has been triggered by decades of work on a free government immunisation programme offering 21 vaccines to everyone in the South American nation .
Gerardo Burgos, secretary general of the health ministry, told, “We have a really strong vaccination program that serves as a model and which will incorporate the new formula that will arrive against COVID.”
The programme covers not just Colombia’s population with about 50 million people but also brings more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants under its ambit.
The country distributes about 23 million doses per year.
Colombia has already committed $213 million to the global COVAX initiative, guaranteeing COVID-19 vaccinations for about 10 million people. People over 60, those with pre-existing conditions and healthcare workers will be immunized first.
Colombia’s cases have climbed steadily despite more than five months of a gradually loosened quarantine which has battered the economy and sent unemployment soaring.
Burgos added that in addition to the cost of the vaccine itself, the government aims to spend up to 300 billion pesos, about $78 million, on transport, information campaigns, regional warehouse expansions and personnel to inoculate the initial 10 million recipients.
The Bogota warehouse can contain 50 million vaccine doses, Burgos said, and is regularly at about 50% capacity.
Taking a COVID vaccine to populations in Columbia’s mountains and jungles will be as difficult as it is with other immunisations.
Burgos said, “It’s not easy to have to navigate rivers and then walk or have to go with animals, on horseback.”
Potential vaccines requiring extreme cold storage could also prove difficult, he said.
Burgos said, “The great novelty could be in the challenge that may be created by vaccines which demand refrigeration below -60, -70 degrees (Celsius).”
A few companies developing exceptional cold storage vaccines said they are working towards making injections last longer in transit.
About 9,000 doses of rotavirus vaccine, among others, were being arranged by workers to ship to the northeastern province of Cesar.
Burgos said, “We’ve made great efforts. Because in the end our responsibility is for all Colombians.”