Venezuela gets 80,000 more Sputnik V vaccine doses as COVID-19 cases surge

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist holds a vial of Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus in a department store in Moscow, Russia

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela received a new shipment of some 80,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, officials said on Saturday, as COVID-19 cases surged and opposition lawmakers criticized the government's vaccine rollout.

The shipment brings the total number of vaccines that Venezuela has received to 880,000, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said. He said the government would focus on inoculating healthcare workers and the elderly with the new shipments. Venezuela has also inoculated public officials, firefighters, civil protection personnel and oxygen distribution workers.

"Venezuela's vaccination process has advanced in a satisfactory manner," Alvarado said in a state television broadcast from the Maiquetia International Airport near the capital city of Caracas, where the plane carrying the vaccines had arrived.

The once-prosperous South American country, which is undergoing a profound economic crisis that has left its public health system in shambles, had previously received 300,000 Sputnik V doses and 500,000 doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine, for a population of around 25 million.

The new shipment comes as Venezuela experiences a second wave of the virus that has prompted President Nicolas Maduro's government to extend lockdown measures. The country has reported a total of 189,381 cases of the novel coronavirus and 2,009 deaths, official data show.

The opposition has pressed Maduro to allow in more vaccines from the World Health Organization's COVAX initiative, which reserves doses for poor countries. The government and opposition have held talks about using funds frozen in the United States under sanctions aimed at ousting Maduro to purchase those doses.

Maduro said earlier this week that the government has made payments to COVAX for around 11 million vaccines, but did not specify what funds it had used and the doses have not yet arrived.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas; editing by Diane Craft)