100,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine arrive in Venezuela

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FILE PHOTO: A shipment of doses of the Sputnik V vaccine arrives in Buenos Aires

CARACAS (Reuters) - The first 100,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine arrived in Venezuela on Saturday.

In a tweet, President Nicolas Maduro said medical and health personnel would be the first to receive the vaccine, "given their exposure to COVID-19."

The vaccines arrived at Caracas' international airport on a special flight from Moscow on Conviasa airlines, Venezuela's state carrier, according to Reuters witnesses and images shown by state television VTV.

"Here is the vaccine to serve the most vulnerable sectors with the highest priority, health personnel, for example; it is a vaccine that addresses the most grave cases of patients with morbidities," said Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

"It is a vaccine that seeks to reduce community transmission," she added.

Maduro has previously said after healthcare workers, "vulnerable sectors" would be next in line, followed by teachers.

For months Venezuela's government has said the South American country would receive 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, although the vaccine's maker has not confirmed that figure.

In addition to Sputnik V, the Pan American Health Organization's chief of mission said last week that between 1.4 million and 2.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine had been reserved for Venezuela. At $10 per dose, those vaccines would cost between $140 million and $240 million.

Venezuelan government officials and opposition leaders have met to discuss buying coronavirus vaccines through the international COVAX program using cash frozen in the United States by economic sanctions, but no deal has been made.

In a Thursday evening state television appearance, Maduro said the government was working on a $300 million deal with the Pan American Health Organization for vaccine supplies, but did not provide details.

Authorities on Friday reported 132,259 coronavirus cases in the country and 1,267 deaths, but medical unions and opponents have said the figure is likely higher.

The government has authorized a relaxation of the national quarantine for two weeks for the next Carnival holiday.

(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian; editing by Jonathan Oatis)