The Brazilian city of Manaus has started administering vaccines against COVID-19, giving hope as the local health system comes under severe strain amid rising infections and declining oxygen supplies.
The Amazonas state government on Tuesday began distributing vaccine doses to municipalities, where the priority in the first phase of vaccinations will be health workers, people over the age of 80 and natives in around 265 villages.
Governor Wilson Lima led a ceremony that kicked off the vaccination campaign Monday night in Manaus, home to around 2.2 million people and the capital of Amazonas, which received 256,000 initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
Vanda Ortega, 33, member of the Witoto ethnic group and nurse technician, received the first dose of CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by Sinovac.
“I want to thank God and our ancestors,” said Ortega, who is also a volunteer nurse in her Indigenous community.
More Brazilian states administered their first COVID-19 inoculations on Tuesday, as the government distributed around six million ready doses of Sinovac’s vaccine in China after its approval on Sunday for emergency use. The country has also approved the British vaccine AstraZeneca.
Brazil has reported more than 211,000 deaths linked to the new coronavirus since the start of the pandemic – the second highest number in the world after the United States – and more than 8.57 million cases of COVID-19, according to the University Johns Hopkins.
The Amazonian state of the country has been particularly affected by a recent outbreak of infections.
Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said last week that Manaus’s hospital system was collapsing, with health facilities understaffed and rapidly running out of oxygen.
Amazonas has recorded at least 232,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures.
Hospitals in Manaus have admitted few new patients with COVID-19, resulting in many suffering from the disease at home and some dying from it.
Many doctors had to choose which COVID-19 patients would receive oxygen, while desperate family members searched for oxygen tanks for loved ones.
The city receives an average of four Brazilian Air Force flights per day to boost oxygen stocks, as well as one shipment per day from the city of Belém, near the mouth of the Amazon River, according to officials.
Brazil is also fighting the Chinese bureaucracy to free exports of active ingredients for vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Sinovac Biotech, three people familiar with the talks told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.
The problem could slow the country’s vaccination campaign.
The sources, who spoke anonymously due to diplomatic sensitivities, said bureaucracy in China was preventing Brazil from completing and distributing millions of additional doses from its own biomedical facilities.
“It’s a new situation and there is a bureaucratic problem. The Chinese are still defining procedures, which is taking time, ”a source said. “There is also a relative scarcity of supplies.”
Brazil’s federally funded biomedical center Fiocruz said it would not be able to deliver finished doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine until March, as it awaits the first delivery of active ingredients from China.
The institute was targeting one million doses by mid-February.