(Recasts to add context, opposition and government reaction)
CARACAS, Feb 2 (Reuters) - At least 1.4 million vaccines have been set aside for Venezuela in the COVAX coronavirus vaccine program, an official with the Pan American Health Organization said on Tuesday, but Caracas will need to pay for them within a week.
PAHO said last month that lack of payment would prevent Venezuela from participating in COVAX, which is meant to ensure that developing nations get timely access to coronavirus vaccines.
The announcement signals that Venezuela may still have the opportunity to obtain vaccines via COVAX for a population suffering from a broad economic collapse and systemic decay of its public health system.
“Venezuela has access to vaccines in the COVAX mechanism. Between 1,425,000 and 2,409,600 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have been reserved that would arrive at the end of February,” tweeted Paolo Balladelli, head of PAHO’s Venezuela mission, adding that payment must be made by Feb 9.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
President Nicolas Maduro has said U.S. sanctions meant to force him from office have left his government unable to pay for food and medicine imports. Authorities have frozen Venezuelan government funds in banks in the United States, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president, has pushed for Venezuela to join COVAX as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We reiterate out willingness for Venezuela to form part of the COVAX mechanism in order to save as many lives as possible,” Miguel Pizarro, a representative of Guaido’s interim government, wrote on Twitter.
Lawyers for Venezuela’s central bank last month said Guaido rejected a proposed deal to pay for coronavirus vaccines with funds frozen in Britain, an assertion the opposition dismissed as false. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Bernadette Baum and Dan Grebler)
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