COVAX aims to resolve COVID-19 vaccine roadblocks in Venezuela after Maduro ultimatum

CARACAS (Reuters) – The COVAX vaccine sharing facility aims to overcome obstacles to shipping coronavirus vaccines to Venezuela “as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for the GAVI alliance said on Tuesday.

Comments from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance that manages COVAX with the World Health Organization, came after President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday he was giving the COVAX system an “ultimatum” to send doses to the country South America in crisis or return the money Venezuela had already paid.

Officials in the OPEC country said in June that several payments to cover the $ 120 million fee had been made, but the last four payments had been blocked by Swiss bank UBS. Maduro’s allies attributed this to US sanctions aimed at ousting him from the presidency.

“We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson for GAVI.

In 2019, Washington blacklisted Venezuela’s state oil company, central bank, and other government institutions, despite exempting humanitarian transactions from sanctions.

Still, the measures have left many banks reluctant to process even authorized Venezuela-related transactions.

Venezuela’s COVAX payments are not subject to any sanctions, but pose compliance challenges for UBS because the government has not satisfactorily explained to the bank what exactly the payment is for, a person familiar with the dossier, adding that UBS will execute the transaction as soon as the open questions are clarified.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several of the payments to COVAX were made by local Venezuelan banks on behalf of the government, Reuters reported last month.

Venezuela has received 3.5 million doses of vaccine from Russian and Chinese allies, and is also conducting trials for the Cuban Abdala vaccine.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas and Michael Shields; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)