Colombia bets on privately funded Covid vaccinations

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

image captionJohana Bautista got access to a Covid vaccine through the company where she works

When her company announced it had purchased coronavirus vaccines, Johanna Bautista made sure to register with the human resources department for a free shot.

The 26-year-old works as a door-to-door sales agent for telecommunications company Movistar.

A few days later she was at a convention centre in Colombia's capital, Bogotá, getting her first dose of the Sinovac vaccine.

"It could take months before the government starts to vaccinate people my age," Ms Bautista said.

"Getting this vaccine today makes me feel very happy and relieved."

Slow vaccine rollout

Like many developing countries, Colombia is struggling to get enough vaccines for its citizens, even as the number of coronavirus cases in the country rises due to new variants and fewer restrictions on the economy.


Global vaccine rollout

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The World
Africa
Asia
Europe
Middle East
Latin America & Caribbean
North America
Oceania

Location

Doses per 100 people

Total doses

World

44.1

3,439,775,179

China

95.8

1,387,280,157

India

27.3

377,352,501

US

99.9

334,151,648

Brazil

53.8

114,456,183

Germany

97.8

81,939,305

UK

120.7

80,646,232

Japan

47.6

60,257,292

France

87.5

59,124,911

Turkey

69.0

58,155,459

Italy

95.3

57,616,037

Indonesia

18.7

51,278,367

Mexico

39.3

50,698,518

Russia

32.6

47,572,228

Spain

99.7

46,612,489

Canada

112.6

42,509,643

Poland

83.3

31,535,478

Argentina

54.5

24,616,918

Chile

125.8

24,053,548

Colombia

41.5

21,124,781

South Korea

39.7

20,330,660

Pakistan

9.0

19,883,900

Saudi Arabia

56.9

19,825,792

Morocco

53.0

19,579,875

Netherlands

100.3

17,191,580

United Arab Emirates

161.1

15,934,124

Philippines

12.0

13,122,277

Thailand

18.0

12,569,213

Belgium

102.1

11,837,865

Malaysia

35.1

11,366,710

Israel

126.2

10,923,521

Hungary

105.1

10,155,466

Bangladesh

6.1

10,107,557

Portugal

94.7

9,660,794

Greece

88.6

9,233,521

Australia

35.7

9,097,969

Romania

47.3

9,092,141

Sweden

90.0

9,086,607

Czech Republic

83.7

8,966,562

Peru

27.1

8,930,921

Dominican Republic

81.4

8,833,615

Cambodia

52.0

8,700,167

Austria

95.6

8,607,754

Switzerland

91.7

7,932,912

Cuba

64.2

7,275,137

Kazakhstan

35.9

6,742,275

Singapore

105.3

6,163,124

Denmark

102.6

5,942,561

Iran

6.8

5,717,914

Ecuador

31.8

5,619,115

Sri Lanka

24.8

5,319,423

Serbia

78.2

5,318,975

Finland

87.1

4,827,970

Ireland

95.3

4,707,181

Norway

85.2

4,617,380

Egypt

4.5

4,560,082

Jordan

42.3

4,312,212

Uruguay

123.0

4,274,165

South Africa

7.1

4,236,718

Azerbaijan

40.5

4,107,950

Vietnam

4.2

4,040,783

Slovakia

71.8

3,919,426

Mongolia

119.0

3,899,770

Nigeria

1.9

3,832,459

Nepal

12.5

3,653,173

Taiwan

15.0

3,565,840

Uzbekistan

10.6

3,541,442

Myanmar

6.4

3,500,000

Ukraine

8.0

3,489,332

Qatar

117.9

3,396,963

El Salvador

49.5

3,212,880

Croatia

68.6

2,814,234

Bolivia

22.7

2,647,544

Costa Rica

49.5

2,521,795

Venezuela

8.8

2,508,201

Algeria

5.7

2,500,000

Lithuania

88.6

2,411,631

Kuwait

55.6

2,375,455

Bahrain

128.9

2,193,232

Tunisia

18.1

2,138,025

Ethiopia

1.8

2,058,122

Bulgaria

26.7

1,852,583

Panama

40.2

1,736,269

Slovenia

76.4

1,587,535

Laos

21.3

1,552,182

Lebanon

22.6

1,541,843

Kenya

2.9

1,539,087

Angola

4.6

1,513,460

Zimbabwe

10.0

1,491,397

Oman

29.0

1,480,949

New Zealand

26.4

1,270,719

Ghana

4.1

1,261,677

Latvia

65.6

1,238,086

Iraq

2.7

1,087,866

Belarus

11.3

1,068,413

Uganda

2.3

1,058,094

Guatemala

5.7

1,028,399

Estonia

77.2

1,023,643

Albania

35.5

1,022,802

Honduras

9.9

980,363

Afghanistan

2.4

934,463

Palestinian Territories

18.1

921,595

Cyprus

99.9

887,110

Ivory Coast

3.2

850,857

Moldova

19.7

793,281

Paraguay

10.9

781,010

Senegal

4.5

751,129

Guinea

5.6

734,918

Mauritius

55.6

706,948

Malta

159.9

705,852

Sudan

1.5

677,957

North Macedonia

31.8

662,372

Rwanda

5.0

646,909

Luxembourg

96.5

604,188

Maldives

99.7

539,092

Mozambique

1.6

508,184

Bhutan

63.0

486,126

Bosnia and Herzegovina

14.3

470,218

Iceland

132.4

451,936

Malawi

2.2

428,407

Niger

1.7

423,335

Libya

5.7

393,688

Fiji

42.3

379,199

Trinidad and Tobago

26.2

366,114

Guyana

45.0

354,014

Togo

4.2

347,246

Tajikistan

3.4

322,907

Montenegro

48.1

302,321

Georgia

7.3

289,399

Jamaica

9.7

288,320

Equatorial Guinea

19.7

277,042

Yemen

0.9

268,753

Botswana

11.4

267,763

Timor-Leste

18.5

244,497

Kosovo

12.6

243,428

Somalia

1.5

235,882

Armenia

7.7

227,172

Sierra Leone

2.8

225,380

Suriname

35.7

209,491

Madagascar

0.7

197,001

Mali

0.9

190,301

Zambia

1.0

181,219

Mauritania

3.8

174,628

Kyrgyzstan

2.7

173,700

Barbados

58.7

168,711

Nicaragua

2.5

167,500

Namibia

6.3

159,585

Seychelles

142.0

139,625

Belize

35.1

139,525

Jersey

125.2

126,554

Congo

2.1

116,110

Isle of Man

134.3

114,190

Cameroon

0.4

110,324

Brunei

24.8

108,457

Syria

0.6

108,276

Cape Verde

17.9

99,686

Bahamas

24.4

95,992

Cayman Islands

143.5

94,277

Liberia

1.8

92,041

Comoros

10.5

90,880

Guernsey

128.2

85,940

Bermuda

131.4

81,845

Central African Republic

1.6

78,685

Gibraltar

231.9

78,125

Andorra

88.4

68,329

DR Congo

0.073

65,567

Antigua and Barbuda

66.5

65,077

Gabon

2.9

64,161

Samoa

31.3

62,161

Faroe Islands

116.3

56,825

Lesotho

2.6

56,322

Saint Lucia

29.2

53,699

Eswatini

4.4

51,451

Papua New Guinea

0.6

51,170

South Sudan

0.4

48,461

Greenland

84.5

47,971

Benin

0.4

46,108

Turks and Caicos Islands

117.1

45,342

San Marino

131.6

44,659

Gambia

1.8

42,975

Turkmenistan

0.7

41,993

Saint Kitts and Nevis

78.9

41,956

Dominica

55.6

40,004

Monaco

99.0

38,849

Liechtenstein

91.9

35,050

Grenada

30.5

34,331

Sao Tome and Principe

15.5

33,996

Tonga

27.1

28,667

Djibouti

2.7

26,796

Burkina Faso

0.1

25,833

St Vincent and the Grenadines

23.0

25,509

Guinea-Bissau

1.2

23,318

British Virgin Islands

73.6

22,247

Solomon Islands

3.2

21,742

Chad

0.1

20,478

Cook Islands

107.8

18,942

Anguilla

109.7

16,460

Vanuatu

3.4

10,480

Nauru

86.0

9,313

Saint Helena

130.0

7,892

Tuvalu

40.5

4,772

Falkland Islands

126.5

4,407

Montserrat

53.0

2,651

Niue

75.2

1,216

Pitcairn

100.0

47

British Indian Ocean Territory

0

0

Burundi

0

0

Eritrea

0

0

Haiti

0

0

Kiribati

0

0

North Korea

0

0

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

0

0

Tanzania

0

0

Tokelau

0

0

Vatican

0

0

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The government's vaccination programme has so far delivered about 22 million doses in the country of 50 million inhabitants, but only about 18% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

To speed things up Colombia is now allowing companies to import vaccines and distribute them for free among their staff.

With the government's help, employers have purchased 2.5 million doses so far, in an effort to protect workers and boost productivity during the pandemic.

And business associations say they are getting calls from companies in other Latin American countries that are interested in putting similar schemes in place.

Ethical questions

But the private vaccination scheme – which runs in parallel to the government's own vaccination efforts – has also also been criticised by public health experts who question its ethics and scientific grounding.

While hundreds of thousands of workers with full-time jobs will be vaccinated under the privately funded scheme, others who are unemployed, or work in the informal economy, are being left out.

Even if they need the vaccines just as urgently.

image captionManuel David Cañas, who entertains motorists for tips, is one of those not covered by the scheme

"While this is a valuable way to speed up vaccination, it does not help us to decrease inequality" says Claudia Vaca, an epidemiologist at the National University in Bogotá.

"It's like creating a VIP queue for those who have the resources to purchase vaccines" says Prof Vaca, who is also a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Health and Life, a group of public health experts that has been critical of the Colombian government's approach to the pandemic.

'Act of solidarity'

Private-sector vaccine purchases were first approved by Colombia in April, as nearby countries like Peru and Argentina approved similar legislation.

But efforts by Colombian companies to import vaccines were initially unsuccessful, because manufacturers were tied up with large orders from national governments.

To help companies acquire vaccines, the Colombian government and the private sector formed a partnership through which the government ceded 2.5 million vaccines it had secured from Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac to a consortium of companies that paid for the shots and agreed to cover transport and distribution.

ANDI, a business association that represents more than 1,200 companies in Colombia, compiled a database of companies that wanted vaccines and set up a fund into which they could pay.

image captionAnother Movistar employee was among those getting vaccinated in Bogotá

According to the association, more than 5,000 companies participated in the scheme, which was also open to businesses which are not ANDI members, paying approximately $60 (£43) per vaccine after transport and distribution were included.

Through the scheme, companies will help Colombia's government to pay for the vaccination of at least 1.25 million people.

"This is a project in which companies are participating without profits in mind," President Iván Duque said on 28 June.

"It is the greatest act of corporate solidarity that we have seen in our country."

Meanwhile the public vaccination campaign rumbles on, with about 9 million people fully vaccinated according to the Ministry of Health.

But vaccines are still arriving at a modest pace, even as the number of people dying from Covid-19 in Colombia is twice as high as in April, forcing the government to prioritize those who are most likely to get ill.

Currently vaccination is only available to people over 40 – and some younger people with serious illnesses – under the government's plan.

Age no hurdle

But under the privately funded vaccination campaign companies are free to choose how they distribute jabs to employees, as long as all staff members are eventually covered. And anyone over 18 is eligible.

image captionThe vaccination roll-out in Colombia has been slow

Some of the country's largest companies have chosen to start with employees under 40 while others, like Movistar, said they would start by vaccinating employees who have the most face-to-face interaction with customers, regardless of their age.

Rappi, a popular delivery app, generated outrage when it announced it would prioritise workers who had accumulated the highest number of deliveries on its platform.

Some doctors have said the privately funded vaccination campaign is throwing epidemiological criteria out the window.

"When vaccines are rare you want to start with the most vulnerable population groups" said Dr Herman Bayona, the president of Bogotá's Medical College.

"This privately funded scheme is designed to solve the problems of companies but it is not necessarily designed with society's needs in mind."

Company representatives argue that the privately funded vaccination plan will eventually help the government to focus on vulnerable groups like homeless people or street vendors.

"The informal sector still faces big challenges," says Ricardo García Molina, the general manager of Evertec, a payments company that bought vaccines for all of its employees in Colombia.

"As companies like ours take pressure off the health system by vaccinating our workers, we give the government more space to take care of people who are being left behind," Mr García Molina argues.

'Everyone is trying to save themselves'

Evertec's general manager said that four employees tested positive for coronavirus in June, more than in any month last year.

The tech company has 530 employees who are mostly working from home, and they have an average age of 30, meaning that for the most part, Evertec will be vaccinating people who still do not qualify for the publicly funded vaccination plan.

Claudia Vaca at Bogotá's National University argues that Colombia's government could have wrestled more benefits from companies when it helped them to get vaccines.

One way to do it, the professor says, could have been to ask companies to provide one vaccine to the informal sector for every vaccine purchased by companies. The government could have also raised funds from the private sector to improve its own vaccination programme.

Prof Vaca says that while the privately funded vaccination campaign will cover an important number of people, it reflects a broader problem: countries facing vaccine shortages are also struggling to distribute their shots equitably and in accordance to scientific criteria.

"We've reached the point where everyone is doing what they can to save themselves" she says.

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