Venezuela Doctors and Scientists Urge COVID-19 Vaccination Progress as Cases Spike

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s main academies of medicine and science on Monday urged renewed efforts to vaccinate the South American nation’s population against the coronavirus amid a spike in infections that has led the government to extend lockdown measures.

The pandemic was significantly less severe than expected in Venezuela in 2020 due to widespread gasoline shortages that restricted vehicle movement, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences said in a joint statement.

But Venezuela now faces a “worst case scenario” of limited vaccine availability, combined with an increase in infections following the relaxation of quarantine measures during the Christmas and Carnival holidays, the academies said.

“An acceleration of vaccination in Venezuela is urgently needed, as is an increase (in) diagnostic capacity and genomic surveillance that will allow continuous monitoring of the virus and mitigation of future waves of contagion,” the statement said.

The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Venezuela’s vaccination campaign is behind most other countries in the region.

It has received about 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China and about 250,000 from Russia’s Sputnik V, of which authorities said last week they expect the arrival of another 30,000 shortly.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has held talks with opposition leaders to obtain vaccines via the COVAX program using funds frozen in the United States.

But those efforts have been complicated by Maduro’s refusal to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clotting. COVAX this year said it set aside doses of the AstraZeneca shot for use in Venezuela.

Maduro on Sunday extended coronavirus lockdown measures for an additional week after the country registered two record-high rates of infection.

Venezuela on Sunday reported 15 deaths and 1,786 new infections, the highest since the start of the pandemic. It has reported 166,123 cases and 1,662 associated deaths.

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