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ICU nurse gets Colombia's first coronavirus shot as rollout begins

BOGOTA, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Head nurse Veronica Luz Machado, who for months has battled the coronavirus pandemic from an intensive care unit in the northern Colombian city of Sincelejo, became the first person in the Andean country to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

Beginning with Machado, 46, Colombia will kick off its plan to immunize 35.2 million people with vaccines acquired through a raft of bilateral deals as well as the World Health Organization-backed COVAX mechanism.

“The pandemic really changed our lives completely, particularly for me and my colleagues, because we were facing an unknown virus, we didn’t know how to respond,” Machado, who works at Hospital Universitario, said in a government broadcast earlier this week, before receiving the first shot of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine.

“It’s a risk that health workers face every day when we leave our homes to come to work in what we enjoy, in what we are passionate about. I was very afraid,” Machado, a nurse for more than two decades, added.

For Machado, the vaccine brings hope following almost a year of coronavirus cases in Colombia, which has reported more than 2.2 million infections and 57,949 deaths. The country has a population of about 50 million people.

“Today begins a new chapter, in which this pandemic is defeated. This chapter begins with mass, safe, effective and free vaccination across the country,” said President Ivan Duque who attended Machado’s first injection.

The first phase of Colombia’s vaccinations will benefit healthcare personnel and those aged 80 and over.

The government plans to immunize 1 million people during the first month of inoculations, which it has described as the greatest public health challenge in the country’s history.

The first 50,000 Pfizer doses arrived in Colombia on Monday, while a second batch of 192,000 doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech are expected to arrive this weekend, Duque said in a message on Twitter earlier this week. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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