World leaders must help poorer countries access vaccines to achieve global herd immunity, says Colombia's President Ivan Duque
BOGOTA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - The international community must help low-income countries overcome weak positions in bilateral negotiations to secure coronavirus vaccines if global herd immunity is to be achieved, Colombia's President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday.
Although processes such as the COVAX mechanism - coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) - can help poorer countries to secure some vaccine doses, the scheme has limitations, Duque said.
"The only way the world can have herd immunity is once we have all gone through a massive universal and equitable process of vaccination," he said in an interview for Reuters Next.
Colombia, which has reported more than 1.8 million coronavirus infections and 46,451 deaths from COVID-19, has so far secured some 49 million vaccine doses, enough to inoculate some 29 million people.
The Andean country has agreed to buy 10 million doses each of the joint Pfizer and BioNTech, and AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as 9 million doses from Janssen, the pharmaceutical unit of Johnson & Johnson. It has secured a further 20 million doses via COVAX.
Colombia is due to start its vaccination program against COVID-19 in February, but Duque reiterated that the country will not offer shots to unregistered Venezuelan migrants.
Fleeing the social and political turmoil in their homeland, more than 1.7 million Venezuelans live in Colombia, of which 900,000 are unregistered, according to figures from Colombia's migration agency.
Offering to vaccinate unregistered Venezuelan migrants would cause "a stampede," owing to the lack of a credible healthcare system in Venezuela, Duque said, acknowledging the decision could be seen as politically incorrect.
Colombia simply does not have the capacity to vaccinate its own population and that of Venezuela at the same time, Duque said.
The international community must help Colombia secure vaccines for unregistered Venezuelans, he added.
"It's very important that the international community that has been highly concerned about the situation in Venezuela also supports us to acquire vaccines to attend the people who have not regularized or normalized their migration condition in Colombia," he said.
Support from U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in Latin America would help the region bounce back from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Duque added.
"If we put in place a development agenda, that includes financing, investment, job opportunities - this is going to allow Latin America to have a fast recovery from COVID-19," he said.
Duque expects Biden will continue to foster a close relationship with Colombia and Latin American, he said, which would benefit from U.S. policies of near-shoring industry in the western hemisphere.
"I am pretty optimistic that President Biden, (who) has been a very close friend of Colombia and a very close friend of Latin America, is going to be keep on improving that relationship that ... has been improving gradually and positively over the last two decades," Duque said.
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(Reporting by Daniel Flynn Writing by Oliver Griffin Editing by Nick Zieminski)
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