ASUNCION – Paraguay’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign kicked off on Monday with the inoculation of a 40-year-old nurse, a recipient of one of the 4,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V shot that have arrived thus far in that South American country.
Miriam Arrua was vaccinated by Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni at the National Hospital in Itaugua, a city 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Asuncion.
Other health workers were subsequently vaccinated at that health center, as well as at a maternity hospital in the Paraguayan capital’s Trinidad neighborhood and at regional hospitals in Ciudad del Este – Paraguay’s second city – and the southern city of Encarnacion.
A large media contingent was on hand to cover the inoculation of Arrua, who works in the Itaugua hospital’s intensive care unit.
The nurse urged Paraguayans to get inoculated once the country receives shipments of 1 million doses contracted through the Russian Direct Investment Fund and 4.3 million doses through the Covax mechanism, a World Health Organization-led effort that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The arrival dates for those vaccines are to be announced this week.
“It’s very important not to let down our guard at this time. There’s no reason to be afraid about getting vaccinated. This gives us assurance that we can keep going and be more attentive to our patients, safer in caring for them,” Arrua said while waiting for the shot.
Other health professionals at that facility were vaccinated under a previously scheduled process that will continue throughout the day in the rest of the designated hospitals.
The first 4,000 doses of the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine are being administered to 2,000 health professionals, Mazzoleni told reporters, adding that these initial beneficiaries are professionals who are “absolutely on the front line.”
Sixty percent of that initial rollout will be targeted to health care personnel in Asuncion and Central departments, epicenter of the sustained virus spread since the first case was detected in March 2020.
The Russian vaccines arrived on Thursday and were hailed by the government as an important step in the fight against COVID-19, although it has faced some criticism over the small quantity of the initial shipment.
Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez subsequently spoke by phone with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a bid to expedite the arrival of the remaining contracted vaccines.
The administration’s goal is to immunize at least 30 percent of Paraguay’s 7.3 million inhabitants, although Mazzoleni said the government will be able to set a significantly higher target starting at mid-year.
Paraguay has registered 151,718 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,065 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the health emergency there.
The government initially issued stay-at-home orders aimed at containing the virus and preventing Paraguay’s precarious public health care system from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
The restrictions have steadily been lifted, although no more than 100 people are currently allowed to attend public or private social events and alcohol may not be sold between midnight and sunrise.
The number of new daily confirmed cases has risen in recent days from between 800 and 900 to more than 1,000 and the COVID-19 test positivity rate stands at a high 28.7 percent, a level that health authorities attribute to the lax attitude of many people toward the pandemic.