Colombia has become the first country in the Americas to receive a delivery of coronavirus vaccines through the global Covax scheme that aims to ensure poorer countries are not left behind in the global immunisation drive.
"Today is a very important milestone," said Colombia President Iván Duquem speaking to the press on Monday,
With more than 50 million confirmed cases and over 1.2 million deaths, countries of the Americas have experienced the worst impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) said in a statement announcing the delivery.
The region will need to immunise approximately 700 million people to control the pandemic, it said.
"In a context where the availability of doses is still very limited, PAHO will continue to support the great efforts of countries in the region to obtain as many vaccines as soon as possible," said PAHO director Carissa Etienne.
The first-ever Covax jabs went to Ghana and Ivory coast last week.
Colombia received 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as part of a "First Wave" initiative under which some countries would receive some of their allotted quota early, said the PAHO.
It is one of the bodies behind the Covax initiative with others including the UN's World Health Organisation, World Bank, and vaccine manufacturers.
"The arrival means that more health workers and high-risk populations can begin to be vaccinated," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"The Covid-19 pandemic can only end if vaccination occurs in an equitable way, and I am truly delighted to see vaccine doses in South America and other regions begin to be rolled out this week through Covax."
Colombia has recorded the second most coronavirus cases in Latin America, after Brazil, with more than 2.25 million and has also registered almost 60,000 deaths.
It began its immunization program two weeks ago and has so far vaccinated 130,000 people, mostly health care workers.
Elsewhere in the region, Peru, El Salvador and Bolivia are also expected to receive vaccines soon under the "First Wave" initiative.
This should be followed by delivery of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean starting this month, said the PAHO.
"Access to vaccines through COVAX will increase steadily month by month and about 280 million doses are expected to reach the Americas and the Caribbean by the end of 2021," it added.
Latin American countries have also independently ordered millions of vaccine doses from manufacturers worldwide.
The PAHO stressed that until vaccination is widespread, basic public health measures remain the foundation of epidemic response.
"For public health authorities, this means continued screening, contact tracing, isolation, assisted quarantine, and quality care. And for individuals, it means continuing to practice physical distancing, hand hygiene, use of masks, ventilation of spaces, and avoidance of crowds," it said.