Uruguay starts vaccination campaign, last in South America

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An elderly man wearing a face mask is pushed in his wheelchair in Montevideo in May 2020

Uruguay, the last country in South America to receive delivery of coronavirus vaccines, started its inoculation campaign Monday with a focus on teachers, soldiers, police and firefighters.

Some 90 vaccination centers countrywide opened their doors to give a first dose of the Chinese CoronaVac shot to some 140,000 essential workers, almost a year to the day since the country recorded its first cases of Covid-19 on March 13.

"Today we have the means to confront this scourge," Health Minister Daniel Salinas told reporters, adding that Uruguay had secured orders for all the vaccines necessary to immunize everyone 18 and older in the country of 3.4 million people.

Nearly 200,000 doses of the vaccine manufactured by China's Sinovac laboratory arrived in Uruguay late Thursday. Another 1.5 million doses are scheduled to start arriving from March 15.

Uruguay is also expecting 460,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to arrive between March 8 and April 26.

The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which trials have suggested is more effective at preventing disease than CoronaVac, will be reserved for health personnel, who are more vulnerable to infection given their proximity to patients.

Uruguay intends to vaccinate some 30,000 people per day.

Vaccination will not be obligatory, but the government is promoting it as an act of solidarity.

For most of 2020, Uruguay was hailed as a model in the region for its successful handling of the pandemic, despite never ordering a lockdown. But the country has seen a rise in cases since November as summer weather and holidays saw people venture out more.

To date, the country has had 57,994 infections and 608 coronavirus deaths.

Sinovac has said trials with CoronaVac in Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Chile had shown efficiency of about 50 percent at preventing all coronavirus disease, 83 percent at preventing cases requiring medical treatment, and 100 percent for severe and fatal cases.

The Pfizer jab has been shown to be 94 percent effective against symptomatic Covid-19.