Colombia's health minister calls for confidence in vaccine as ICU numbers rise

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombians should have confidence in coronavirus vaccines, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said on Thursday, as intensive care unit occupation levels in the country's three biggest cities exceed 90%.

Colombia hopes to vaccinate some 34 million of its citizens against coronavirus as it tries to secure herd immunity.

It has so far reached agreements with pharmaceutical companies to secure vaccines for 29 million people. The first delivery of 1.7 million doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech will arrive in February, with vaccinations beginning immediately, according to the government.

"As a country we have to be conscious that vaccination is necessary, and Colombians should have confidence in the vaccines," Ruiz said.

While the vaccine will not be obligatory in Colombia, Ruiz warned against damaging public trust in the vaccination process.

Colombia has reported more than 1.83 million coronavirus infections, as well as over 47,000 deaths from COVID-19, the disease it causes.

On Wednesday, President Ivan Duque extended a so-called "selective quarantine" until the end of February amid a second wave of coronavirus infections.

The president has authorized mayors and governors to restrict movement as needed, such as when occupancy levels in intensive care units (ICU) rises.

In the capital Bogota - where Mayor Claudia Lopez has planned strict quarantines in many neighborhoods - ICU occupation for COVID-19 patients sits at 92.7%, according to local government figures.

In Medellin and Cali - the country's second-largest and third-largest city respectively - ICU occupation stands at 90.3% and 97.3%.

At the end of 2020, doctors in Colombia called for new quarantines to be brought in to help stem a surge in case numbers, when the Colombian Association of Internal Medicine (ACMI) issued an open letter rejecting behavior that creates large crowds.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Angus MacSwan)

01/14/2021 17:13

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