Verónica Machado, head nurse at the University Hospital of Sincelejo, has become the first Colombian to receive a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Machado’s historic jab marks the start of the National Vaccination Program to immunize 35 million citizens – 70% of the population – in 2021.

President Iván Duque, Vice-President Marta Lucia Ramírez and Minister of Health Fernando Ruíz attended the vaccine roll-out in the coastal department Sucre, and during a press briefing, President Duque highlighted that coronavirus “is the most important public health challenge in recent decades.” Minister Ruíz called on Colombians to remember the 200 doctors and 300 health workers who died in the line of duty. “We must move forward, and Colombia expects that from us,” said Ruíz. “The vaccine is safe and we must vaccinate ourselves.”

The national government had proposed that doses from the first shipment that arrived in the country on Monday be destined to health professionals working in  regions hard-hit by the pandemic, while another shipment of 192,000 doses from Chinese manufacturer Sinovac is expected to arrive on Friday.

Bogota Mayor Claudia López spared no words to criticize President Iván Duque for rolling-out the National Vaccination Program in Monteria and Sincelejo in a tweet charged with political sarcasm. “We respect the political preference of the Presidency in having his photo taken of the first vaccinations in the city of his choosing. But this cannot delay distribution of the vaccine to other cities, much less the city where they arrived and is ready to begin.”

Vaccinations in seven Bogotá hospitals begins February 20. The national government did not respond to Mayor López’s social media remark. And Mayor López’s critique of Wednesday’s planned Duque photo op, resulted in a simple elbow-to-elbow greeting between the head of state and Machado.

The tweet was posted a day after Colombia got its initial shipment on schedule, and same-day Australia and New Zealand got theirs. Many developed nations across the globe are still scrambling to secure orders or have yet to begin inoculating the elderly and frontline workers.

Visibly emotional after witnessing Machado receive the vaccine, Ruíz reassured Colombians that with 61 million doses secured from pharmaceuticals, as well as the WHO’s Covax program, the country enters “the last stage in the battle against coronavirus.”

For the roll-out 18 vaccines were given in Monteria and Sincelejo.

The spread of coronavirus continues to decelerate across the country with 4,049 cases confirmed by the National Health Institute (INS) on Tuesday – putting the nation’s total since the outbreak on March 6, 2020, at 2,202,598.

Active cases stand at 43,000 with more than two million patients recovered. The death toll has claimed 58,000 victims.