Venezuela Politicizes Vaccine Access Via State Loyalty Card
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela is restricting Covid-19 shots to people with a state loyalty card, effectively excluding many government opponents from getting vaccinated.
When the country began inoculating its elderly population last week, it said it was selecting recipients from a registry used by the Nicolas Maduro administration to keep tabs on voter loyalty and grant state subsidies.
While all Venezuelans have a national ID card, they haven’t all registered for the state loyalty card known as the Carnet de la Patria, which is disproportionately held by people who depend on state aid and who are more likely to be loyal to the Maduro government.
The use of the registry has been criticized by medical experts, NGOs and the opposition, since the database of an estimated 20 million people doesn’t cover the whole population of 28 million. In recent years, the government has repeatedly used the card to condition access to food programs, fuel subsidies and welfare payments.
“For a vaccination strategy, we have to start from a registry that includes 100% of the Venezuelan people,” said Julio Castro, a Caracas-based epidemiologist who advises the opposition. “Using this system to decide who gets vaccinated is discriminatory,” he said in a radio interview this week.
The loyalty card is “a mechanism for electoral control,” said Rafael Uzcategui, who works for human rights NGO Provea. “Many people know that it is a political control mechanism and they do not want to be part of it.”
“Not even in the cruelest of dictatorships there’s discrimination to access a vaccine,” opposition leader Juan Guaido said in a press conference on April 9.
On Wednesday, Guaido said he would join health workers in a protest at the Caracas headquarters of the United Nations this weekend, to demand a vaccination plan that covers the whole population.
Venezuela’s Health Ministry didn’t reply to a written request for comment.
Maria Rojas, a 63-year-old homemaker, arrived early to a makeshift vaccination site in Eastern Caracas last week after receiving a text message the day before letting her know she’d been selected through the loyalty card system. Under a couple of tents, council workers distributed extra face masks and disinfected the area every few minutes.
“I’m very grateful for this,” Rojas said before receiving the first dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. “Things are really bad out there.”
The country started vaccinating medical staff in February, shortly after getting the first doses secured from Russia and China, though many front-line staff have still yet to receive a shot. The government hasn’t given any official information on the number of people vaccinated.
Venezuela currently has 175,812 Covid-19 cases, according to government figures. With infections breaking daily records this month, the nation’s crumbling, underfunded hospitals are near full capacity.
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