Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica became the first countries in Latin America to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday.
Mexico administered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Maria Irene Ramirez, 59, the head of the intensive care unit at Ruben Lenero Hospital in Mexico City.
"This is the best gift that I could have received in 2020," she said. "We are afraid, but we have to keep going because someone has to face this fight."
The first doses of the German and U.S.-developed Pfizer-BioNTech also arrived in Costa Rica and Chile with both countries beginning vaccinations shortly after Mexico, while Argentina received 300,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday.
Latin America has become a hotspot for the virus with Mexico reporting 1,350,079 cases and 120,311 deaths, Chile with 594,152 cases and 16,303 deaths, while Costa Rica has 162,990 and 2,086 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
The Mexican government has said it plans to vaccinate all health workers by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
"We are going to guarantee this health car right, with vaccines for all Mexicans," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said during a press conference Thursday. "We already have the budget, with the money to purchase all the doses that are required."
Authorities in Mexico City raised the pandemic alert level in the capital to its highest level, establishing mass shutdowns with only essential businesses remaining open.
However, the federal government's response has faced criticism as it held data that indicated the capital should have locked down in early December and Lopez Obrador has refused to wear a mask and continued public rallies throughout the country.