Venezuela Nears Vaccine Deal Using Cash in Frozen Accounts

Venezuela’s government and opposition are in talks with the Pan-American Health Organization to buy vaccines to inoculate 6 million people against Covid-19, according to three people with direct knowledge of the talks.

About 1.4 million of those are from AstraZeneca Plc and will come from the World Health Organization-backed Covax initiative, the people said.

The vaccines would be available from March, and would be paid for with offshore funds frozen by U.S. sanctions, which can’t be unblocked without the backing of the opposition. While the source of the remaining vaccines is yet to be determined, the total cost for the 12 million doses, enough to vaccinate 6 million Venezuelans, is approximately $120 million, according to two of the people.

The government is looking to create a fund for Covid-19 vaccines, President Nicolas Maduro said late Thursday.

“We are seeking a practical and effective agreement to create a $300 million fund with the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization for Venezuela’s vaccines,” Maduro said on state television.

Maduro made no mention of talks with the opposition to secure vaccines, nor did he offer details on where the money would come from.

Under the terms of the deal between the government and opposition, last discussed in a meeting earlier today, PAHO and Unicef will have strict supervision of the vaccination plan as well as the refrigeration chain needed to keep the vaccines within the required temperature range, two of the people said. Paolo Balladelli, head of the WHO-PAHO mission in Venezuela, said on Twitter that the country is getting is closer to accessing coronavirus vaccines.

Health Minister Carlos Alvarado and opposition medical adviser Dr. Julio Castro attended the meeting, among others, the people said. Press officials for Alvarado and Castro didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

While the government is proposing to distribute the vaccines in major public hospitals already tending to Covid-19 patients, the opposition is asking for stricter terms after clauses for a previous deal to distribute more than 340,000 antigen tests were not met.

Venezuela has so far reported 131,476 covid cases and 1,253 deaths, fewer than most regional peers.

The first 100,000 doses of ten million Sputnik-V vaccines purchased by the government are set to arrive next week, Maduro said this week.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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