Colombia says it’s ready to distribute coronavirus vaccines

AP International

Boxes of vaccines, unrelated to COVID-19, are stored in a large refrigerator, during a media tour of the ministry warehouse where the vaccine for the new coronavirus will also be stored in freezers in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian officials say that they are ready to distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccines, once the shots arrive in the South American country.

On Tuesday, officials from the Ministry of Health took journalists through a temperature-controlled warehouse in Bogota that can house up to 50 million vaccines. They displayed brand new freezers that can keep vaccines at ultracold temperatures of -80 degrees Celsius.

The freezers, which are about the size of a kitchen fridge, can hold up to 200,000 vaccines each, officials said. The Ministry of Health says similar warehouses have been set up at provincial capitals to ensure that vaccines stay cool and don’t get spoiled as they travel through the country. More than 3,000 portable containers will be used to keep the vaccines cold as they are taken to remote towns and villages.

“We are logistically prepared,” said Gerson Bermont, a Ministry of Health official in charge of disease prevention. “We will take the vaccine to the farthest village and the last health post in Colombia.”

Colombia’s government is aiming to vaccinate more than 30 million people this year, out of a population of about 50 million. But vaccines have been slow to arrive in Colombia, which still hasn’t administered a single shot.

Meanwhile nearby countries like Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico and Chile have already gotten their vaccination programs underway.

President Ivan Duque said in December that the country has purchased 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the World Health Organization’s COVAX platform.

Officials say vaccination will begin in February, but have not provided a specific date.

Coronavirus infections increased dramatically in Colombia since the Christmas holidays, with the country reporting more than 15,000 new cases per day in the second week of January, compared to about 7,000 cases per day at the start of December.

The new wave of infections has pushed many local hospitals to the limit while prompting the country’s largest cities to enforce nighttime curfews and shut down commerce on weekends.

Colombia has reported 1.75 million cases since the pandemic began, and 49,000 deaths.

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