Remarkably, members of the government of disputed President Nicolás Maduro and advisers to the National Assembly, chaired by Presidential challenger Juan Guaidó, have been working together under an agreement to acquire medical equipment and, more recently, design a vaccine purchase and rollout plan.
The director of human rights at a prestigious Venezuelan university reported, “The team had secured an agreement for 2.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX mechanism. Guaidó was to provide funding while Maduro would allow the government structure under his control to distribute the vaccines.”
“Guaidó was to provide funding while Maduro would allow the government structure under his control to distribute the vaccines.”
Director of human rights, university, Venezuela
Unfortunately, President Nicolás Maduro decided to halt the import of AstraZeneca vaccines after it was subject to review by European health authorities following allegations of potential links to blood clot risks.
While this may have been a legitimate concern, apparently the Maduro administration was also angered that the agreement between them and the National Assembly was made public. As the founder of a Venezuelan NGO explained, “The Maduro administration saw the leak of the agreement to the media as a breach of the terms of the agreement and an attempt by the National Assembly and Juan Guaidó to score political points.”
During the first half of April, Venezuela imported 750,000 vaccine doses, which would cover less than 1.3% of the population. The country needs 20 million vaccines to cover 70% of the population, including one million health workers.
A senior medical official told us, “So far, the Venezuelan authorities have only authorised the administration of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and the vaccine manufactured by the Chinese company Sinopharm. However, only small batches have been administered, mainly to senior officials of the Maduro Administration and to the health personnel of public entities.”
“Only small batches have been administered, mainly to senior officials of the Maduro Administration and to the health personnel of public entities.”
Senior medical official, Venezuela
Furthermore, there have been reports that Maduro’s party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, have been refusing to administer the vaccine to anyone without a Carnet de la Patria. A political official explained, “The ‘Carnet de la Patria’ is an ID card established by the Maduro Administration whose declared objective is the distribution of social benefits and subsidies. In truth, it is a sophisticated mechanism that collects very detailed information on the population and enables Maduro to reward people who vote for him. The middle-class that oppose the Maduro Administration have mostly refused to register for the Carnet because they identify it as a mechanism of social control and identification with Chavismo.”
The government is facing mounting pressure both at national and international level. In Caracas, the Citizens Platform for the Defence of the Constitution (PCDC) and Critical Thinking Group (GPC) have requested more transparency from the government in vaccination programme funds allocations. The Pan America Health Organisation said that Maduro had paid USD 200 million to Russia for ten million vaccines of which the country has only received 300,000. A spokesperson for the organisation criticised the government’s lack of planning but also emphasised the problems that the country faces in importing medical equipment due to US sanctions.
If this wasn’t bad enough, a black-market for vaccines has been established by the desperate population. The black market is divided into two groups, fraudsters selling fake vaccines with serious health risks and public officials seeking to profit from the situation by re-selling legitimate vaccines for between USD 300 and USD 600.