With the U.S. Trump administration out of power, Colombia is turning to Russia and China for supplies of Covid-19 vaccines for its 35 million citizens. According to sources in President Iván Duque’s office, the government had been warned by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to buy vaccines from Russia or China.
Last week, Colombia said it is close to reaching an agreement with Russia’s Gamaleya Institute for acquiring doses of the Sputnik V vaccine. The health ministry said it is also talking to China’s Sinopharm and Cansino as well as India’s Serum Institute about vaccine purchases.
“We are out from under political pressure from the Donald Trump administration and the order not to do business with the Russians and Chinese,” said Ramiro Lara, an aide to Duque. “We thought the restriction was unfair, even inhumane, given the tragedy of the pandemic. Now we have the blessing of the new U.S. government to do what is best for our people.”
Colombia has maintained a close relationship with the U.S. over the years, receiving the most U.S. foreign aid of any country in Latin America. During the Trump administration, the country was under pressure to reduce trade and other interactions with China and Russia.
Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said Colombia needs to work with pharmaceutical companies from several countries to build an adequate supply of vaccine. “We need 61 million doses for our people by the end of 2021 or early 2022,” he said. “We have reached agreements with Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna but they cannot fulfill all of our needs.” He added that the country will also receive vaccines through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program for poor and developing countries.
Ruiz said that he is impressed with the quality of the Sputnik and Sinopharm vaccines. “In efficacy and health concerns, they match Pfizer and Moderna and may have greater effectiveness against the variants that are emerging around the world.”
Colombia administered its first vaccines on Tuesday and hopes to inoculate 70% of its population in 2021. But the government is concerned about vaccine acceptance, Ruiz said. “Surveys show that 40% of the population has doubts about vaccination. We hope that once the process begins all that will change.”
Although Colombia previously said it would not vaccinate undocumented immigrants, the health ministry is now developing a plan to provide inoculations to migrants with help from COVAX, it said in a statement.
Colombia is home to some 1.72 million Venezuelans who have fled economic and political turmoil in the neighboring country. Nearly 1 million of those migrants are classed as “irregular” by migration authorities.