Panama will offer vaccines to foreign visitors in the near future now that most of its own citizens are fully inoculated, the nation’s trade and industry minister said.

“Next month we’re going to have more than 70% of our population with two vaccines and that’s been one of the keys of our economic plan for recovery,” Trade and Industry Minister Ramon Martinez told Bloomberg Television’s Shery Ahn in an interview in New York.

“We’re going to open for tourists to visit Panama and get vaccinated, and allow them to see the other wonders that Panama has.”

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

President Laurentino Cortizo said during his address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday the nation is weeks away from achieving herd immunity and called for an international effort “to provide countries with enough vaccines to save lives, preserve health and put us on a path to a global economic recovery.”

Latin America has been among the regions worst-hit by the pandemic, both in terms of deaths and in economic damage. Panama initially lagged peers in its vaccination drive, but is now among the regional leaders with 56% of its population fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That’s a higher proportion than the U.S. and Japan, and far higher than most Latin American nations.


Unlike most countries in the region, which raced to source shots wherever they could, Panama put most of its eggs in the basket of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Panama’s economy will grow 12% this year. That comes after a 17.9% slump in economic activity last year, as measures to curb the pandemic paralyzed the key construction sector.

Panama’s hotels, restaurants and manufacturing were also badly hit by the pandemic last year, while its financial service companies were relatively unscathed.

The government will earn more than $2 billion from the Panama Canal this year, a record, as the recent expansion allows it to handle larger ships, Martinez said. Despite the rise in shipping costs, the government doesn’t have any plans to raise tolls for now, he said.

All three main ratings agencies have downgraded Panama since November.