Colombia begins its COVID-19 vaccination

By Emma Newbery February 17, 2021

COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia began today and Bogotá will get its first vaccinations tomorrow. The health ministry are confident 35 million people will be vaccinated by the end of the year.

Vaccination in Colombia started today. Photo: Minsalud

After a long wait COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia has begun. Today, Verónica Machado, a nurse in Sincelejo, was the first person in Colombia to receive the coronavirus vaccine. 

The original plan had been to begin the nationwide vaccination program on Saturday (Feb. 20), but things have moved faster. Sincelejo and Montería began vaccinating today. Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga and Cartagena begin tomorrow. And other areas will begin their vaccinations on Friday and Saturday.

The plan is to vaccinate 35 million people against coronavirus by the end of the year. I say people rather than Colombians because foreigners will also be eligible.

Once the program gets underway, the Ministry of Health says COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia can go quickly. It estimates it will be able to vaccinate 100,000 people a day and has set a target of vaccinating one million people in February and March.

When will I get vaccinated?

The first 50,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Colombia on Monday. These will go to front-line health workers, as will the second batch of 50,000 that arrives on Feb. 24. The following delivery of 100,000 vaccines will be used to give both groups their second dose.

Read all our coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

According to Health Minister Fernando Ruiz Gómez, those over 80 years old are the next priority. “First we’ll vaccinate the 350,000 people who use their human talent in healthcare and work in the front line of COVID-19 care. We’ll continue with the 1,200,000 people over 80 years. Once we finish, we’ll continue with those over 60 and the second-line healthcare workers.”

That said, there’s also talk of sending the whole 192,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine straight to Leticia in an attempt to reduce the risk of the Brazilian strain from spreading further into Colombia. However, Brazil has raised concerns over the effectiveness of this vaccine.

Colombia has a platform called Mi Vacuna, which helps you see where you are in the vaccine queue. You can also find information about the nation’s vaccination plan. Let’s hope it works better than the coronapp.

That said, you don’t have to register with Mi Vacuna to get vaccinated. Your EPS provider is in charge of inputting who belongs to what group into the system and also informing you when you can be vaccinated.

Where does COVAX come in?

If you thought COVAX was a type of vaccine, you’re not alone. But it’s a vaccine alliance, made up of the WHO, Gavi, and CEPI. Gavi and CEPI are both global vaccine partnerships that existed before COVID. Its mission is to ensure all countries can access the vaccine, regardless of wealth and it’s supported the development of various vaccines and operates as a trading block to negotiated prices.

Read also: How to get a coronavirus test in Bogotá

Colombia is getting 2,533,600 AztraZenece vaccines and 177,000 Pfizer ones through COVAX. COVAX aims to provide enough vaccines for 20% of the population in every country. Its motto is: With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe.

Which vaccines will Colombia get?

Pfizer in Colombia

Pfizer is the first vaccine to arrive in Colombia. According to a Pfizer press release in December, we’ll be getting a total of 10 million doses. The reason Colombia’s been busily acquiring super cold freezers is that the two-shot vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Colombia plans to use the Pfizer vaccine in urban areas and keep the more forgiving vaccines for rural zones.

AstraZeneca in Colombia

The AstraZeneca vaccine has come in for some bad press recently, but Ruiz defended it this week. “Our Advisory Body and scientific committee have not seen conclusive evidence,” he said of the rumoured side effects. “Our objective is to reduce mortality for this disease and this vaccine gives us peace of mind to proceed.”

Colombia will be getting 10 million shots of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate 5 million people as it also needs to be administered in two doses. Unlike Pfizer, this vaccine can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Sinovac vaccine in Colombia

Like AstraZeneca, this is a two-dose vaccine that needs to be stored between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. Colombia’s bought 2.5 million doses of the Chinese vaccine, which is good for 1,250,000 people.

Moderna vaccine in Colombia

Moderna is a relative newcomer to the vaccine market, but the two-dose vaccine has proved effective in tests. Colombia has agreed to buy 10 million doses of this vaccine, which also doesn’t need to be stored in at supercold temperatures. 

Janssen vaccine in Colombia

Many have high hopes of the Janssen vaccine because it’s one of the only vaccines not to need two shots. That makes it ideal for rural areas where people are very spread out. Colombia has 9 million Janssen vaccines coming — which will be good for 9 million people.

Sputnik V vaccine in Colombia

No deal has been signed, but the Russian ambassador told press this month that Colombia is negotiating to both buy and produce the vaccine.

What can we expect?

Looking at other countries we can be pretty confident that the vaccine process won’t run smoothly. Colombia’s already hit several stumbling blocks in its negotiations and need for Invima approval. But at least the delay gave it time to prepare. Which the health minister assures people it has.

In the coming weeks and months, we will see more and more vaccines arrive in the country. It will reach a peak in August, when we’re due to get over 11 million doses. Once the vaccine arrives, there’s a limited time window to transport and administer the drugs. Which becomes complicated in a hot country like Colombia with a spread-out population.