By the World Bank
The year 2020 was a leap year, and it was on that extra day, February 29, that the Ecuadorian government officially announced the first known case of COVID-19 infection in the country. An elderly lady had returned from travel abroad with the virus 15 days earlier. The announcement marked Ecuador as the 55th country in the world to report a case of the deadly disease.
Just a few weeks later, Ecuador rapidly became a country with one of the world’s highest rates of infections and deaths. Ecuador’s second-largest city, Guayaquil, was hit particularly hard.
The true horror began when bodies began to appear on the streets. They were of people who had collapsed as they struggled to breathe, or of those who had died in their homes and whose relatives had placed their bodies on the sidewalks in the hope that the authorities would take charge of the situation.
The months that followed were not encouraging. Large city hospitals were overburdened, and the lack of testing impeded authorities from tracking infections or explaining the unusual increase in deaths compared to annual averages.
Ecuador was entirely at the mercy of COVID-19: by late 2020, the country had recorded over 200,000 cases and 14,000 deaths, appalling figures for a country of just 17 million.
Therefore, it was even more remarkable that Ecuador became a leader in vaccination rates. But getting there was no easy task.
The arrival of the vaccine
On December 8, 2020, the United Kingdom became the first country to administer the vaccine. Ecuador did not begin vaccinating its population until mid-March 2021, targetting specific priority groups, such as healthcare workers, security personnel and the elderly.
During those early months, the immunization process suffered several setbacks. Some vaccination centers experienced overcrowding and people had to wait hours to receive their vaccine. The Ecuadorian government appealed to private universities and other institutions to support the process. Nevertheless, vaccination rates remained low.
Between January and May 2021, the government delivered 2.5 million doses and guaranteed the arrival of more large shipments. The pace of vaccination rose dramatically with the incoming administration of President Guillermo Lasso. A week after taking office, he presented an ambitious vaccination plan, which many believed would be impossible to achieve.
The Ecuadorian government set an ambitious target: vaccinate 9 million people in just 100 days. To achieve this, it engaged in “vaccine diplomacy,” obtaining a variety of vaccines through multiple channels to meet needs.
The Ecuadorian government invested an estimated US$ 320 million in vaccines from different laboratories, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca Sinovac and CanSino. The United States, China, Canada, Spain and Chile, among others, responded in solidarity to Ecuador’s call for help in procuring vaccines.
The government deployed 1,700 health brigades and opened 520 vaccination centers throughout the country. It also worked with 3,100 private companies, universities, armed and security forces, firefighters, the Red Cross and local governments to coordinate activities. Through “vaccination days,” Ecuador increased daily vaccinations from 80,000 to 414,000.
“We managed to unite everyone around a single goal: to save lives,” said Ecuadorian Health Minister Ximena Garzón. “The Armed Forces were key for reaching remote areas, and private enterprises made their logistical capacity available, as did universities, unions, local governments and the entire ministerial cabinet. This has been the largest social mobilization in Ecuador’s history.”
According to Our World Data, in July and August, Ecuador had one of the world’s highest daily rates of vaccine doses administered for every 100 people.
Ecuador also worked with multilateral organizations, including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) and United Nations organizations such as UNICEF, WHO/PAHO and UNHCR, whose experience, coupled with the government’s determination to achieve coordinated targets, resulted in an effective, rapid vaccination campaign.
Adrian Díaz, the PAHO/WHO representative in Ecuador, shared that “During ongoing weekly meetings, aid workers and the Ministry of Public Health share information on plan implementation, identify critical issues that arise and develop responses and solutions to advance the objectives and targets of COVID-19 vaccination efforts.”
During the first week of September, the government announced that it had met the target of vaccinating 9 million people in 100 days. Ecuador went from being one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic to becoming an example for the world. This success story would have been impossible without the massive turnout of the population.
Since September, most economic activities have begun to resume normally; students are progressively returning to classrooms; public transport has increased to 100 percent capacity; and some entertainment venues are opening their doors to the public. In recent weeks, healthcare centers and hospitals have reported empty intensive care units, and the government has closed temporary hospitals and healthcare centers. On some days, no COVID-19 deaths are reported.
“Ecuador was one of the first countries to receive World Bank funds to respond to the health emergency, and later for the vaccination process. Additionally, we have joined forces to support the most vulnerable groups through social protection programs, and to promote economic recovery,” said Marianne Fay, World Bank director for Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.
Currently, the country is completing the vaccinating of children aged 12 to 18 years and beginning inoculating those aged 6 to 11. The government expects to vaccinate more than 85 percent of the population by the end of November and 90 to 95 percent by the end of the year.
Although the virus is still present, the political will of a government, the collaboration of other nations and multilateral organizations, the actions of different civil society actors and the organized collaboration of the population are key factors in the success of the vaccination process in Ecuador. Other countries of the region and the world can replicate this model.
Credit: The World Bank