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City of Manaus in Brazil’s Amazon begins COVID-19 immunization

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Amazonian city of Manaus in Brazil began administering vaccines against the coronavirus, providing a ray of hope for the rainforest’s biggest city whose health system is collapsing amid an increase in infections and dwindling oxygen supplies.

Amazonas state Gov. Wilson Lima led a ceremony that kicked off the vaccination campaign Monday night in Manaus, an isolated riverside city of 2.2 million people.

READ MORE: Amazon rainforest city scrambles to provide oxygen to COVID-19 patients

Vanda Ortega, 33, a member of the Witoto ethnicity and a nurse technician, received the first dose of CoronaVac, a vaccine developed by Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.

“I want to thank God and our ancestors,” said Ortega, who is also a volunteer nurse in her Indigenous community.

Brazil on Monday began rolling out its national immunization program with 6 million doses of CoronaVac in almost a dozen states, and hopes to receive 46 million doses up to April to distribute among states. Amazonas received 256,000 doses.

The state government on Tuesday started distributing the doses to municipalities. The priority in the first vaccination phase will be health workers, elderly people above 80 years old, and Indigenous people in about 265 villages.

Amazonas has recorded at least 232,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures. The state is in the midst of a devastating resurgence of infections and a lack of oxygen supplies.

Hospitals in Manaus have admitted few new COVID-19 patients, causing many to suffer from the disease at home and some to die. And many doctors in Manaus have had to choose which COVID-19 patients can breathe while desperate family members searched for oxygen tanks for their loved ones.

READ MORE: Brazil has surge of virus cases, downplayed by politicians

The city is receiving an average of four Brazilian air force flights per day to bolster oxygen stocks, along with one shipment per day from the city of Belem near the mouth of the Amazon river, according to officials.

The government of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, which Bolsonaro regularly criticizes, authorized the dispatch of a caravan of trucks loaded with 107,000 cubic meters (3,78 million cubic feet) of oxygen that will arrive in Amazonas on Tuesday, according to the state government.

Even as Amazonas welcomed the support, Bolsonaro lobbed critiques at Maduro.

“If you want to offer us oxygen, we will receive it without a problem,” Bolsonaro said Monday. “But he (Maduro) could give emergency aid to his people too, right? The minimum wage there doesn’t buy half a kilo of rice.”

Amazonas’ government transferred 18 patients by plane to Goiás state on Monday. The state has already transferred 112 patients to be treated in the Federal District, Brasilia, and other states, according to the state’s health secretariat.

Videojournalist Fernando Crispim contributed to this report from Manaus.

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