Updating the schedule for Covid-19 vaccines provided over the weekend by the Ministry of Health, President Lenin Moreno said Monday he believes inoculations can begin in January. “Based on information we have received in the last two days, we believe we can begin offering the vaccines to the most vulnerable groups sometime in January,” he said.
On Saturday, the ministry said the program would begin in March.
According to Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos, the government plans to administer 30,000 vaccines a day with the expectation of completing the program within six to nine months.
The minister said his staff is analyzing the option of administering antibody tests since he says those who have been infected will not need the vaccine. “We estimate that about 30 percent of the population has already been exposed to the virus but the difficulty will be determining who has and who has not,” he said. “Our research shows that Ecuador is far ahead of most countries in terms of the percentage of the population infected, with the majority of those infected suffering no symptoms or only minor symptoms.”
Officially – based on confirmed cases – Ecuador has recorded 186,000 cases but Zevallos concedes that the count is “only a small fraction” of the actual number.
Moreno said that the revised January start date for vaccinations is based on discussions with pharmaceutical companies. “They are confident that they can begin shipping in December and early January in sufficient amounts to allow us to begin our program,” he said. Among the companies the government has talked to are AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna.
Zevallos said the ministry has begun an analysis of the available vaccines and will make a final decision on which will be purchased by early December. “We are looking primarily at safety and effectiveness,” he said.
He added: “In addition, there are a number of other important issues to be resolved, including transporting and maintaining the vaccines. We are encouraged by the news of the Pfizer product but have to consider its storage requirements since it must be maintained at -70 degrees (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) until it is administered. Obviously, this presents logistical challenges since we do not currently have this refrigeration capability.”
Under the program announced by the health ministry, doctors, nurses, emergency response personnel, those with serious illnesses and those over the age of 55 will be first in line to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, Ecuador’s Ministry of Health reported Sunday. In addition, some public and private employees with high exposure to the virus will also be included in the priority group. The ministry designated Cuenca, Guayaquil and Quito as the cities to receive the first vaccine shipments.