Honduras asks WHO for priority COVID-19 vaccines after storm devastation

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TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on Wednesday asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to make the Central American nation a priority in deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines, citing the devastating effects of two hurricanes.

Honduras, which was already experiencing high poverty levels, faces about $1.9 billion in damages from hurricanes Eta and Iota, a United Nations economic commission for the region estimated, although the government said the impact was far greater.

“We want to make Honduras an example of how we can stand up from natural disasters and the pandemic,” Hernandez said in statement issued after a virtual meeting with WHO officials.

Hernandez urged the WHO to prioritize the country in its distribution of vaccines through the COVAX scheme, an international program that aims to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.

Honduras has reported 156,606 official cases of COVID-19 in the country, as well as 3,789 deaths.

So far, the government has secured 1.4 million AstraZeneca vaccines for 700,000 people, according to the health ministry. It also sent letters of intent to Chinese and Russian laboratories.

Honduras is set to receive AstraZeneca vaccines for 1.9 million people through the COVAX scheme, with the first batch scheduled to arrive at the end of February.

Hernandez has called the back-to-back hurricanes the worst disaster to ever hit Honduras.

More than four million people have been affected by Eta and Iota, with 2.5 million people in need, an evaluation late last year found. Then, some 92,000 people were still in shelters and 62,000 houses were affected.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Additional reproting and writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Aurora Ellis