The Pan American Health Organization says the United Nations-backed program will improve access to COVID vaccines in Latin America.

Colombia becomes the first country in America to receive a shipment of coronavirus vaccines as part of the United Nations-backed COVAX program and received 117,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine on Monday.

The shipment arrived in the capital Bogota a few days after the anniversary of the first COVID-19 case in Latin America.

Colombia was one of the hardest hit countries in the region, recording over 2.25 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 60,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

“Today is a very important milestone. Today COVAX is delivering for the first time in the Western Hemisphere. The first country to receive this delivery is Colombia,” said President Ivan Duque in a statement.

Colombia, the third largest country in Latin America by population, had already started COVID-19 vaccinations [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine access facility, aims to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people are vaccinated and that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines.

However, the initiative was hampered by the severely limited global supply of cans and logistical problems. Although two billion shots are expected to be fired this year, there are currently legally binding agreements for only several hundred million shots.

“The arrival means more health workers and high-risk populations can be vaccinated,” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic can only end if vaccination is fair and I am delighted that vaccine doses are being rolled out in South America and other regions through COVAX this week.”

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) expects to improve access to vaccines in Latin America through COVAX and has announced plans to bring around 280 million vaccines to the Americas and the Caribbean by the end of the year.

The organization said in a statement Monday that 36 countries in the region will be receiving vaccines through the Pfizer BioNTech and AstraZeneca initiative.

Of these, 26 will do so from their own resources, while 10 will receive the vaccines for free.

Peru, El Salvador and Bolivia are expected to receive Pfizer BioNTech vaccines as part of the “first wave” of COVAX shipments, PAHO said in its statement.

Colombia launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign last month.

The government has announced plans to vaccinate 35 million people this year, including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees currently living in the country.

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