Uncertainty about the timing of Ecuador’s mass vaccination program continues to grow while some health professionals claim the government lacks a cohesive plan to vaccinate the population. Early expectations that mass vaccination would begin by March or April are rapidly fading and the Health Ministry says that most citizens may need to wait until the second half of 2021 and possibly beyond for Covid vaccinations.
The ministry says it will receive 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January but acknowledges it won’t be enough for all health care and emergency services workers. After that, it is unclear when other Pfizer shipments will arrive although the government has purchased four million doses, enough for two million people.
Last week, the ministry indicated it might rely on two Chinese vaccines that are currently in stage 3 trials, with Ecuador participating in one of the trials. Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said he believes the Chinese vaccines could fill a shortfall in Ecuador although he said the government continues to work with Pfizer, Moderna and other companies in hopes of earlier deliveries.
In December, Zevallos said that Ecuador would be “second in line” behind richer countries in North America and Europe in receiving vaccine shipments. “We don’t have the purchasing power of more prosperous countries and this will affect when shipments arrive and how many doses they contain.”
The World Health Organization warned last week that it could take three to four years for some countries to vaccinate their populations against Covid-19. It cited production delays as well as financial constraints in poorer countries.
Meanwhile, the ministry’s national vaccination plans are being criticized by several public health doctors. “More than 10 months after the first cases of Covid were reported in Ecuador, there is still not an adequate plan to immunize the population,” says Rodrigo Henríquez, an epidemiologist at the University of Las Américas in Quito. He also claims the country’s testing program is “grossly inadequate” for monitoring the extent of infections.
Ecuador records 38,000 excess deaths in 2020
Ecuador’s Civil Registry reports there were 38,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019 and health officials attribute most of them to the Covid-19 virus. Officially, the Ministry of Health says 9,500 have died of the virus with another 4,600 Covid deaths suspected. Of the additional deaths, ministry officials say more than 50 percent are from causes other than Covid but said some may be the result of deferred health care due to concerns of Covid infection.
Tariffs on EU consumer goods drop
Import tariffs on 2,800 products entering Ecuador from the European Union were reduced on January 1. The reduced entry fees affect the prices of cars, cosmetics, clothing, food products, bicycles, among other consumer goods. The tariff reductions are part of a multi-year program and have the largest impact on cars, which arrive with a 13 percent tariff in 2021 compared to 35 percent in 2016. Ecuador and the EU signed a free trade agreement in 2015.