URU CHIPAYA, Bolivia – In the high Bolivian desert plains of Uru Chipaya, Fausto Lopez donned his finest clothes, delighted to finally receive a vaccine against COVID-19.
Lopez and his wife Petronila Mollo took to the main plaza, where a mass inoculation was planned after the government announced it would deliver a batch of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) Janssen single-dose vaccine to the community remote native.
A large press group, including reporters from Reuters, had been invited to cover the good news.
However, it did not go as planned.
The expected vaccines have not arrived. Although they carry signs saying “I have been vaccinated against COVID-19,” most people are not vaccinated, with only a handful of volunteers inoculated with a Chinese vaccine who were already in the city. Lopez left disappointed.
“When the vaccines came in people were a little nervous about it, but later the vaccines ran out and people weren’t vaccinated, that’s what happened,” Lopez said.
Often far from large urban centers – Uru Chipaya is about an eight-hour drive from La Paz – indigenous communities in Latin America are often left behind in the region’s failing immunization programs.
In mountainous western Bolivia, men farm and fish, and women expertly weave sheep wool into handicrafts for sale.
Its very remoteness preserved its way of life, but during the coronavirus pandemic it also created a barrier to accessing vaccines, which often must be carefully stored and given in two doses over an extended period.
The Bolivian socialist government has administered more than 3.1 million doses of the vaccine so far, enough for about 13.5% of its population, assuming each person needs two doses, according to a Reuters tracker.
But as some hard-to-reach indigenous populations began to be vaccinated, indigenous leaders, including lawmaker Cecilia Moyoviri and local activist Alex Villca, criticized the lack of vaccines in these communities.
“There is an inequality in the distribution of vaccines,” Toribia Lero, who heads the indigenous peoples’ committee in Bolivia’s lower house of deputies, told Reuters.
“There is still no data on how vaccines are distributed to indigenous communities. In many situations, the ministry will travel to a city or meet with senior leaders just to take pictures. “
Osman Calvimontes Subieta of the Ministry of Health said: “Vaccines are guaranteed … we need to recognize that our local authorities in indigenous areas are leading by example.
He declined to comment on the reasons why the promised vaccine doses had not reached Uru Chipaya.
In the face of delays in Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, the government turned to doses of Sinopharm and received single-dose Janssen vaccines through the COVAX mechanism to help secure vaccine supplies to developing countries, which ‘he is committed to supplying in rural areas.
Lero said lawmakers would look into what happened in Uru Chipaya.
“We are going to investigate this because it cannot be that indigenous peoples are again at risk,” she said.
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