Suriname begins coronavirus vaccination campaign with donated doses

PARAMARIBO (Reuters) - Suriname launched a coronavirus vaccination campaign on Tuesday with a small batch of donated doses, as the South American nation seeks a steady supply of inoculations.

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The impoverished country, which has a population of about 600,000, has reported 8,869 cases of COVID-19 and 168 deaths. It hopes to bring in 400,000 doses by the end of the year.

It began the inoculation effort with 1,000 doses provided by Barbados and is expecting to receive a donation of 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India as early as this week, Public Health Minister Amar Ramadhin said.

“We look forward to negotiating with the Indian government because we know there are more vaccines on their way,” said Ramadhin, a physician who was himself vaccinated in a televised broadcast. “We will use the power of negotiation and friendship between India and Suriname.”

About a quarter of Suriname’s population is of Indian descent.

Suriname made a $750,000 down payment in 2020 to the World Health Organization-backed vaccine distribution network, COVAX, with the hope of receiving up to 20,000 Pfizer Inc vaccines in early February.

That delivery was delayed and Suriname is now expected to receive doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the first quarter.

It also hopes to receive 10,000 doses through an agreement between the African Medical Supplies Platform, a nonprofit initiative of the African Union, and the Caribbean Community, a regional cooperation organization.

The vaccinations will first focus on about 1,500 healthcare workers, followed by 2,000 residents of retirement homes. Indigenous people are also a priority.

Air travel is limited to returnees and those with urgent travel needs. Weekend lockdowns remain in place, although schools opened their doors last week for the first time in 2021.

Reporting by Ank Kuipers; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Mark Heinrich Peter Cooney