While health care workers in Europe and North America are beginning to receive the first Covid-19 vaccines, Ecuador’s front-line workers will have to wait until January. “We are still negotiating with the vaccine makers and could receive some shipments by the end of December but they are more likely to arrive in January,” says Ecuador Deputy Minister of Health Xavier Solórrzano.
Updating the expectations of President Lenin Moreno and Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos, Solórrzano said it is very unlikely that any Ecuadorians will be vaccinated before January. “Like many other things in the world, market forces will dictate the distribution schedule of the vaccine. Ecuador is a poor country and, unfortunately, the rich countries such as the United States, the UK and members of the European Union will be first in line.”
He added: “In our discussions with Pfizer, for example, we have learned that almost all production has already been committed through the middle of January and we believe the story at Moderna is the same.”
Even for countries that pay top dollar, says Solórrzano, the extent of early shipments may fall short of projections. “The U.S. has already been forced to move back estimates of when most of its residents will be inoculated due to limits on the production and supply chains. It’s unlikely this will happen in the first half of 2021 and the process could extend to September and October. It looks like many of the early predictions were overly optimistic.”
The approval and registration process for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is already underway in Ecuador, through Arcsa (National Agency for Health Regulation, Control and Surveillance). “We are following the guidance of the regulatory agencies in the U.S. and the EU, the FDA and EMA, but we must conduct our own review before beginning vaccinations,” Solórrzano says. He said that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will also undergo review once it is released.
Ecuador has already established its priority list for vaccinations. Health care workers, emergency responders and those with compromised health conditions will be first to get the shots. Then comes essential workers in hospitals and the food industry followed by those over 55. “We are following protocols established by the World Health Organization with the goal of protecting the most vulnerable first and thereby saving the most lives,” according to Solórrzano.
The Ministry of Health says it intends to vaccinate 60 percent of Ecuador’s population, excluding those who have been infected and recovered from Covid during the first months of the pandemic. “Depending on research currently being developed, we may vaccinate those already infected at a later date,” a ministry spokesman said. “At this point, we don’t have reliable information about how long immunity will last, whether from direct infection or from vaccination.”
Solórrzano emphasized that the vaccine will not be mandatory. “Misinformation continues to be spread on social media that people will be forced to have the shots, which is not true. This is not China or Russia where the government can impose its will on people so we will depend on public understanding and cooperation to overcome the pandemic.”
He added that many details remain to be worked out about the country’s vaccination program. “This is the largest health crisis in modern history and it will be a major undertaking in Ecuador as it will be in the rest of the world. We are still in negotiation with the vaccine producers and will provide information to the public as it becomes available.”