Belarus, Argentina start vaccinations with Russian shots

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Dr. Estefania Zevrnja gets a shot of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 at Dr. Pedro Fiorito Hospital in Avellaneda, Argentina, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

MOSCOW – Belarus and Argentina launched mass coronavirus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot on Tuesday, becoming the first countries outside Russia to roll out the vaccine, which has faced criticism over the speed with which it was approved.

The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in the former Soviet republic of Belarus on Tuesday and the vaccination effort began almost immediately.

"A new stage starts in Belarus today with mass vaccinations against COVID-19. Medical staff, teachers, and those who come into contact a lot of people due to their jobs will be the first to get vaccinated. Vaccination will be entirely voluntary,” Belarus Health Minister Dmitry Pinevich was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his ministry and Russian health authorities.

Hours later, a similar campaign kicked off in South America as Argentine medical workers began receiving the vaccine and officials insisted it was safe. President Alberto Fernández called it the largest vaccination campaign in the country's modern history.

Teachers, those with complicating medical conditions and people over 60 were to be next in line in Argentina, which so far has received 300,000 doses, which also will be free and voluntary.

Argentina, a country of 45 million people, has recorded nearly 1.6 million infections with the new coronavirus and almost 43,000 deaths.

Belarus conducted its own trial of Sputnik V among 100 volunteers and gave the shot regulatory approval on Dec. 21, two days before Argentina did.

Russia has been widely criticized for giving the domestically developed Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after the vaccine only had been tested on a few dozen people. An advanced study started shortly after the vaccine received the Russian government's go-ahead.