Argentina’s mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19 has entered a new stage, with elderly citizens now eligible for shots against the novel coronavirus.
Provinces across the country, as well as the Federal Capital, began making appointments for citizens aged over 70 or 80 years old this week, with each region able to decide independently what age bracket qualifies immediately, based on their allocated number of doses and population breakdown. In certain regions, teachers and those with high-risk factors will also be considered for vaccination.
Buenos Aires Province, home to almost 40 percent of the country, began vaccinating those aged over 70 on Thursday.
The news comes one week after Argentina surpassed two million confirmed cases of Covid-19. On Friday, fatalities surpassed 51,000 since the start of the pandemic.
This is the second stage of the vaccination campaign roll-out in Argentina. Once those aged 70 have been inoculated, attention will turn those aged 60 to 69, those aged 18 to 59 with risk factors and "strategic personnel," the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Officials said yesterday that between Thursday and Sunday, an estimated 95,000 people would receive jabs, including those aged over 70, teachers and those with risk factors. Another 30,000 health-workers in 135 municipalities in Buenos Aires Province will also receive shots.
Demand for jabs is clearly running high. In Buenos Aires City, where City Hall said that those over 80 could sign up for shots, the website assigning appointments crashed on Friday due to high demand.
Until this week, Argentina has only had access to Russia’s Sputnik V jab, produced by the Russian laboratory Gamaleya, having received delivery of 1.2 million doses. However, on Wednesday, the country took delivery of 580,000 doses of the Covishield shot, from the Indian Serum Institute.
Covishield, produced thanks to a technology transfer from pharma giant AstraZenaca and Oxford University, landed at Ezeiza International Airport via a Qatar Airlines flight, where Health Minister Ginés González García and India's Ambassador to Argentina Dinesh Bhatia were on hand to welcome the consignment.
The shot is essentially the same as the British-developed AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine that previously received approval by Argentina's ANMAT drug authority on December 30.
In total, authorities say they have provisions in place for some 62 million doses of various vaccines. That includes 30 million doses of Sputnik V, 23.6 million of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University jab and nine million shots secured via the World Health Organisation’s Covax mechanism.
The Alberto Fernández administration is also in talks with China to secure at least one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, while officials have said local laboratories are keen to advance in the transfer of necessary technology to manufacture Sputnik V in Argentina.
‘I was waiting for it’
On the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Thursday, elderly citizens were already receiving their jabs.
Marta Selis – speaking as she waited to be given her dose at a public school in Ezeiza – said she had been anxiously awaiting her jab .
"I was waiting for it. The truth is that I could not see when [it would happen], because it has already been a year of being locked up, although we cannot blame anyone for this. But I am happy now and then I will have the other dose too," said the 71-year-old retiree.
Dozens of older adults had shown up at the school, which lies around 20 kilometres from the capital, each arriving punctually for their allocated timeslot. As they waited in a large classroom, five specialist vaccination nurses were preparing shots.
"The truth is it gave me a lot of joy and I didn't think it would be so soon," said Nilda Martínez, 86, another retiree, who had just been given her jab.
Gustavo Bordazar, Nilda's son, accompanied her to the centre. "We receive it with great joy. We are waiting for the second dose to have a normal life," he said.
Coordinators have been working around the clock to prepare themselves for a busy schedule.
"Six-hundred doses arrived at the school and the vaccination of 150 people per day is scheduled," said the centre’s coordinator Zulema Iriarte, speaking as doses thawed out nearby.
The centre will vaccinate citizens seven days a week until February 28, with a total number of 25 people working in rotation, she added.
Prior to vaccination, patients had to answer a survey about their health and potential risks. After receiving their jabs, individuals were asked to wait at the centre for 30 minutes to ensure they suffered no immediate adverse reactions.
Those vaccinated will be asked to return for a second dose within 21 to 60 days.