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Panama begins Covid-19 vaccinations

January 21, 2021

Nurse Violeta Gaona on Wednesday received in her left arm the first dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 in Panama, the country which accumulates the highest number of infections in Central America.

Dressed in her work uniform, mask and face shield, Gaona, 59, received the prick with a stoic face and a glance at the syringe, in front of the watchful eye of the president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, at the launch ceremony of the vaccination.

“Do not be afraid, because many are afraid to get the vaccine. Be positive,” Gaona told reporters shortly before being inoculated.

Head of the Intensive Care Unit of the Santo Tomás Public Hospital in Panama City, the nurse recalled the victims of Covid-19, and how she saw patients desperate for care.

She also confessed to being nervous, “but very positive and very confident that this vaccine will do something good for us here in Panama,” she said.

Vaccine or natural selection

A little more than a couple of kilometers away, Simón Theoktisto, head of intensive care at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Public Hospital, became the first doctor to receive the dose at that health center.

“I feel good, (it is) like any vaccine. Now it remains to be seen if it is actually as effective as the first studies have determined,” he said.

“It’s obvious that the vaccine is the only thing that can protect us in the long term. Either we get the vaccine or we surrender to the laws of nature,” added Theoktisto.

Panama received the first 12,840 doses of the Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine against Covid-19 on Wednesday, a smaller shipment than expected due to the production problems that the multinational pharmaceutical has had.

Authorities hope that the supply will be regularized after February 15, to eventually receive the 3 million doses of Pfizer immunizers guaranteed in the contract signed for $36 million.

Panama is the second country in Central America to have a vaccine against the new coronavirus, after Costa Rica, and it hopes to have 5.5 million doses from three laboratories, for which it will pay $55 million.

Hope for the country

“This first batch gives the country hope, and we are ready,” said President Cortizo.

With 4.2 million inhabitants, Panama has the highest number of Covid-19 infections in Central America, with more than 300,000 infected and 4,864 dead since the start of the pandemic.

In addition, 50,000 people are in home isolation and there are about 2,600 hospitalized.

The situation has caused the government to consider the rental of refrigerated containers to store corpses, given the saturation of morgues and hospitals.

That saturation still remains in the memory of Nurse Gaona, for whom the start of the pandemic was “quite sad.”

“I was quite shocked, despite my years of service, to see so many patients waiting to enter the Intensive Care Unit,” she said.

Despite the vaccine, “there will continue to be fatality” and will have to continue “more than a year” with “strict” biosafety measures, predicted Dr. Theoktisto.

70% of the population

The Panamanian vaccination plan is divided into four phases. In the first, health personnel, bedridden people over 60 years of age and members of the State security forces will be immunized.

The second phase will target the rest of those over 60 and the chronically ill, while indigenous people from remote areas are included in the third.

Finally, the rest of the population will be vaccinated, in a process in which there will be more than 1,100 authorized centers.

The director of the Social Security Fund, Enrique Lau, affirmed that the government hopes to vaccinate 70% of the population, in a campaign that President Cortizo defined as the “largest in the history” of Panama.

During the day, the doctor Alfredo Mata, on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, also received his first vaccine dose.

“This vaccine represents hope for us and for many people,” he said.

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