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Colombia Begins Late Vaccine Rollout, Hopes To Vaccinate 35 Million People

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GRAEME ROBERTSON AP
/
The Miami Herald
A worker holds a bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, as the mass public vaccination program gets underway at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. The CDC on Saturday released guidance on vaccination for those with preexisting conditions.

Last week, Colombia finally began its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine — making it among the last in Latin America to do so, even though it’s one of the region’s largest countries.

The anxieties of the delayed rollout have been felt both in Colombia and here, among South Florida’s expat community.

Neighboring nations like Ecuador and Panama began their vaccination protocols last month, and Chile has vaccinated over 10% of its entire population.

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But Colombia only received its first shipment of the vaccine last week — 50,000 doses of the Pfizer drug. The country’s three biggest cities — Bogotá, Medellín and Cali — received their first shots last Thursday.

The need is urgent. Colombia has recorded more than 2.2 million COVID cases — the second highest in Latin America — and 58,000 deaths.

Dr. Carlos Espinal Tejada heads the Global Health Consortium at Florida International University. He says Colombia’s late vaccination start poses a number of challenges, including public faith.

“The biggest challenge is, really, to secure the access of the at-most-risk population and improve the trust in the vaccination program. In the early surveys only 45 percent were willing to accept the vaccines,” Espinal Tejada said.

Colombian expats share these concerns. Sylvia Peña Curran lives in South Florida and still has family members back in Colombia. They’re now signing up for the vaccine but Peña says the long COVID quarantine, and the long wait for vaccines, has left her elderly mother in Bogotá confused and wary.

“My mom is a little scared ‘cause for her to understand how this vaccine was developed so quickly is a very hard concept to grasp. Nevertheless, hopefully she will be in the first group receiving it because she’s over 80,” Peña Curran said.

Colombia hopes to vaccinate 35 million people from its population of 50 million. It expects to receive more than a million vaccine doses this month and the next. Most will come from the international vaccine access program, COVAX.