Health care workers are at the head of the line as Argentina begins Covid-19 vaccination using the Russian developed vaccine Sputnik V, amid concerns about a second wave of infections in the South American country.
“It is a beautiful day for Argentines, the start of a new stage in which we must continue keeping everyone together, as we are now beginning this vaccination nationwide,” Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia said as he witnessed the first inoculations at Hospital Posadas in Buenos Aires.
The same process unfolded at sites across Argentina’s 24 provinces, including Hospital San Martin in La Plata, capital of Buenos Aires province, where the first injections were administered to a nurse, a janitor and a physician, respectively.
The provincial governor, Axel Kicillof, also got the jab in front of the cameras to show confidence in the safety and efficacy of the Sputnik V medication, the only one of the three vaccines approved by Argentina’s National Administration of Medications, Food and Medical Technology that is currently available in the country.
President Alberto Fernandez was unable to get the vaccination on the first day as he had planned because it is not yet approved for use with people over the age of 60.
The initial round of vaccinations will go to health-care workers in the major cities, which account for most of Argentina’s 1.59 million Covid-19 cases. Lab technicians who handle test samples will also be among the first to get the shot.
Argentina’s death toll from Covid-19 has already reached 43,000.
Most of the existing and prospective Covid-19 vaccines need to be administered in two doses to achieve maximum effectiveness and the Health Ministry estimates that Argentina will need 54.4 million doses.
The government has commitments for 51 million doses, including 20 million of the Sputnik V drug, 22.4 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University and 9 million doses to be made available through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative.
Buenos Aires is also in negotiations with other vaccine producers, including US-based Pfizer and China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm.
Fernandez had initially planned to rely on the AstraZeneca drug, having signed an agreement in August that would allow the vaccine to be produced in Argentina under license.
But AstraZeneca encountered delays and in October, Vice President Cristina Fernandez (no relation to the president) began talks with the Russian ambassador to Argentina that led to a deal for the Sputnik V medication.
Russia has faced criticism for authorizing use of Sputnik V prior to the conclusion of large-scale clinical trials.
Argentina and Belarus are the only other nations to have approved the Russian vaccine.