Friday, February 26, 2021

First vaccines against covid-19 arrive in Panama, the country with the most infections in Central America

TODAY PANAMA – With a sideways view of the syringe, nurse Violeta Gaona received the first dose of the vaccine against covid-19 in Panama on Wednesday in her left arm. Panama has the highest number of infections due to the pandemic in Central America.

Nurse Violeta Gaona was the first person from Panama to receive the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine against covid-19, at the Santo Tomás Hospital in Panama City, on January 20, 2021. Photo: AFP

Dressed in her work uniform, her mask and face shield, Gaona, 59, received the prick with a serious gesture, 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.

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The 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

Just over 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.

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Unlike Gaona, he preferred to offer the right arm for the injection. “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 it to be,” he said.

“It is 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 vaccine from Pfizer / BioNtech against covid-19 on Wednesday, a smaller shipment than expected due to the production problems that the pharmaceutical in Europe as it upgrade the production facility, that is expected to normalize by mid February.

Panama has purchased three million doses of the Pfizer vaccine for US$36 million dollars.

Panama is the second country in Central America to have a vaccine against the new coronavirus, after Costa Rica, which expects more than six million doses from three pharmaceuticals: Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

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

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With 4.2 million inhabitants, Panama has the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Central America, with 303,777 infected and 4,912 dead, as at January 21, 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 even caused the government to consider the rental of refrigerated containers to store corpses, given the saturation of morgues and hospitals.

That collapse 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, you can say in line,” she said.

Despite the vaccine, “there will continue to be fatalities” and will have to continue “more than a year” with “strict” biosecurity measures, warned Dr. Theoktisto.

70% of the population

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

In the second phase, it will be the turn of the rest of those over 60 years of age and chronically ill.

In the third phase, the indigenous people from remote areas.

Finally, in the fourth phase, the rest of the population will be vaccinated, in a process that includes 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 process 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 the dose from him. “This vaccine represents hope for us and for many people,” he said.

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