Deep in remote Amazon, indigenous villagers receive coronavirus vaccine

Vials of Sinovac coronavirus disease vaccine are seen ahead of a COVID-19 vaccination action in Tabatinga, state of Amazonas, Brazil January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

TABATINGA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilian military flew medical personnel and 1,000 doses of a Chinese vaccine deep into the Amazon rainforest on Tuesday to start inoculating indigenous people against the coronavirus.

Isabel Ticuna, 68, was the first to receive the vaccine in Umariaçu, a village of wooden houses on the banks of the Amazon River. The village is a remote community near the border of Peru and Colombia.

"Vaccination is so important for all of our indigenous community. It was this that we were waiting for," she told Reuters after getting an injection of the CoronaVac shot, developed by China's Sinovac Biotech.

Villagers clapped as she received her injection, a collective show of relief for a community that has seen 37 residents die of COVID-19 and some 2,000 more infected.

"I was so worried, but this D-Day has arrived finally after so many deaths here and in the world," said Tarcis Marques Ticuna, the village medic. "This is hope for us."

Brazil's more than 800,000 indigenous people have been badly hit by the pandemic sweeping through their villages, many of them located days away from the nearest medical post by river boat.

The coronavirus has killed 926 indigenous people in Brazil and infected more than 46,000, according to tribal umbrella organization APIB.

Anthropologists have warned that the communal way of life, with families sharing dwellings, ruled out social distancing and made them particularly vulnerable to contagion.

Brazil's right-wing government is facing criticism for its slow response to the pandemic that has so far killed more than 210,000 Brazilians.

(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Adriano Machado; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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