Venezuela’s government said on Thursday it started vaccinating health workers with the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, adding it hopes to inoculate 70%of the country’s population against COVID-19 by the end of the year.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has received 100 000 doses of the Russian vaccine, and is in talks with the opposition to pay for more using funds frozen in the United States under a sanctions programme.

“Today (we) begin the plan to serve those who are on the front lines” in the fight against coronavirus, said Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in televised comments.

“In the coming months, we will have more than 70% of the population vaccinated and we will achieve the so-called herd immunity,” said the Health Minister Carlos Alvarado.

Official figures as of Wednesday showed Venezuela has had a total of 134 319 COVID-19 cases and 1 297 related deaths.

Medical experts and opposition leaders have said the figure is likely much higher.

Venezuela has around 1 million health workers, according to medical organisations.

They frequently complain of low wages and poor working conditions in public hospitals, which suffer from lack of water, power and medical supplies.

At the Miguel Perez Carreno hospital in western Caracas, 150 nurses, or 90% of their total, did not show up to work on Thursday to protest salaries of only $3 per month, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Rodriguez said that in the next two weeks, health personnel will be vaccinated in Caracas and nearby states of Miranda and La Guaira.

As she spoke, state television showed images of a half dozen women in blue and green uniforms in hospitals receiving injections.