Venezuela business group proposes directly buying 6 million vaccines

COVID-19 vaccination in Caracas
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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's largest business organization on Thursday presented a proposal to buy 6 million COVID-19 shots to vaccinate private sector workers and families, a plan that would require the approval of the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela has received 700,000 doses, of which 500,000 were donated by China's Sinopharm and the rest are Russia's Sputnik V. Opposition leaders are separately negotiating to buy vaccines via the COVAX program using funds frozen in the United States.

"The country needs a joint effort between the public and private sectors ... to guarantee the sufficient levels of immunization," Fedecamaras president Ricardo Cusanno told a news conference.

The plan would not generate profit for any of those involved, Cusanno said, adding that it would only use vaccines that had been approved for use by the health ministry.

The vaccines would be distributed over four and a half months in 100 private clinics, Cusanno said. The funds would come from companies or potentially from financing by multilateral lenders, he said.

Laboratories have until now focused on selling vaccines to national governments, but Cusanno expected this would change as vaccination campaigns around the world advance.

Maduro's government said this month it would not approve the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reports of side effects, and has maintained this position even after the World Health Organization said the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.

The COVAX program has set aside AstraZeneca vaccines for Venezuela, which would be released once necessary payments were made.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera; Editing by Edmund Blair)