Belarus and Argentina have launched mass COVID-19 vaccination campaigns using the Russian-developed Sputnik V shots. They are the first countries outside Russia to release the vaccine.
The first doses of the Sputnik V vaccine arrived in the former Soviet republic of Belarus on Tuesday, officials from Russia and Belarus confirmed.
A statement by the Belarusian health ministry said the first vaccines would be given to medical workers and teachers, as well as others whose jobs require them to come in contact with many people. Individuals will have the right to refuse the vaccine if they wish, the statement added.
Hours later, a similar campaign launched in Argentina. The country has so far received 300,000 doses, which officials say will be free and voluntary. President Alberto Fernández called it the largest vaccination effort in the country’s modern history.
Medical workers in Argentina were first to receive the Russian-made vaccine. Next in line for the vaccine will be teachers, those with high-risk medical conditions and people over the age of 60.
The Russian-made vaccine requires people to get two shots. Another 19.7 million doses are set to arrive in January and February.
Argentina, a country of 45 million people, has recorded nearly 1.6 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 43,000 deaths.
Belarus has reported nearly 190,000 confirmed cases and about 1,400 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But many in the Eastern European nation of 9.4 million people suspect the government is manipulating the count to hide the true numbers.
Belarus carried out its own tests with Sputnik V among 100 volunteers and approved the vaccine for use on Dec. 21. Argentina approved the shots two days later.
Russia was widely criticized for approving the vaccine in August for use within Russia after it was tested on only a few dozen people. A large-scale study involving tens of thousands of people started shortly after the vaccine received Russian government approval.
Russian health officials decided to start offering Sputnik V to people in high-risk groups, such as medical workers and teachers, within weeks of approval. Mass vaccinations with Sputnik V started in Russia this month, even though the vaccine has not yet completed large-scale testing.
Belarus expects to vaccinate around 200,000 people with Sputnik V in the first part of its national program, health ministry officials say.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has faced months of demands by protesters to resign after an August election they say was fraudulent. He has mainly dismissed COVID-19. His opinions about the pandemic have angered many Belarusians and have fueled continued criticism about his leadership style.
Opposition politicians say Lukashenko’s government has permitted COVID-19 to spread uncontrollably in jails, where thousands of protesters are detained.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
dose – n. the amount of a medicine or drug that is taken at one time
manipulate – v. control someone or something in a certain way in an effort to get them to do what you want them to do
dozen – n. twelve of something
fraudulent – adj. dishonest and illegal
style – n. a way of doing something or behaving