Honduran government under pressure after delay on COVAX vaccine purchases

TEGUCIGALPA — An anti-corruption watchdog on Thursday publicly urged Honduras to come clean about a snag in its plans to buy millions of vaccine doses through the COVAX mechanism, increasing pressure on the government over its management of the pandemic.

Honduras had said it planned to purchase the doses through COVAX and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to cover about 2 million people this year to ramp up its COVID-19 vaccine campaign.

That is in addition to donated doses for which the government is eligible through COVAX, the scheme led by the GAVI vaccines alliance and the World Health Organization. The donated doses will cover 20% of Honduras’ population.

The National Anti-Corruption Council, a government watchdog, sent a letter dated March 3, which it shared on Twitter on Thursday, saying the government was aware the purchase was not going to happen and it should tell the public.

“Said information has not been shared with the Honduran people, who have an inalienable right to know the advances and setbacks that are presented during the acquisition process,” the council said in the letter.

The health ministry issued a statement in response to the council’s letter, saying it had not received any official notice from COVAX that eliminated the opportunity “to acquire vaccines.” The statement said the donated vaccines through COVAX were secured, but did not address the additional planned purchases.

Health Minister Laura Flores said on local television on Thursday the government had sent a letter to COVAX about the purchases, and that the program had replied it would not be possible to obtain the 4 million doses until later in 2021 or next year due to high demand in over 90 countries.

Representatives for GAVI and the WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cases have been rising in the Central American country in recent weeks, even as they declined in neighboring nations. At least 4,214 people have died from the virus, official data shows.

The first batches of donated vaccines from COVAX are expected in March, officials said.

The government also secured 1.4 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine and plans to acquire 70,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V.

Flores said the government is in talks with other companies, including Pfizer Inc, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson. (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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