Letter from… Colombia
By Mateo Mora
Just when the Colombian economy was reporting its best numbers since the COVID-19 pandemic started, a new surge in cases has caused death rates and intensive care unit occupation rates to reach a critical level. The first vaccines will arrive later in February, not a moment too soon.
The second semester of the last year in Colombia was a period of tense calm. The economy started its recovery process after the lockdowns in April and May. Meanwhile, new cases of COVID-19 stabilised at around 7,000 cases per day, which left room for the health system to treat old and new patients properly.
In August 2020, the National Government started moving to negotiate with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Janssen, to acquire the vaccine as soon they received FDA or EMA approval. Colombia also signed agreements with Covax (a collaboration platform led by the World Health Organisation) to guarantee doses for 20% of the population of any subsidiary country.
The first vaccine agreements were settled in December 2020 when the National Government announced it had bought 29 million doses from those companies and the WHO platform. Thus, the immunisation campaigns should start in the middle of February.
The year finished with good news in terms of economic recovery. The unemployment rate was close to March 2020 levels (14.3%). Also, the November GDP growth projection made by the Statistics Department showed that the economy would fall 3.39 % on that month, the lowest rate since April.
Those numbers set the tone for an optimistic mood for 2021 until early January, when a new peak of COVID-19 caused death cases to reach a record high and intensive care units occupation rates were at capacity. Authorities blamed Christmas and New Year meetings as being the cause of the rise and announced weekend and night lockdowns in Bogotá and other big cities.
The new peak also put pressure on the Government's capability to start the immunisation campaigns in February, particularly when other Latin American countries have started faster. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has been preparing the supply chain to disperse vaccines as soon as they arrive.
The National Government’s plan is to immunise those working in the health and hospital sector and 80+ year old citizens with the first round of vaccines. After that, it will start with 60+ year old citizens, followed by 100% of the population between 16 and 59 with comorbidities such as hypertensive diseases, diabetes, kidney failure, HIV, tumours, tuberculosis, COPD, ASMA, and obesity.
At the end of 2021, the National Government projects that it will have immunized 29 million Colombians, in other words, 58 % of the population.