MADRID – The COVID-19 vaccines co-developed by two multinational pharmaceutical corporations – New York-based Pfizer and British-Swedish AstraZeneca – are the products of choice for at least 11 countries in Latin America.
A large group of countries, however, are waiting to receive vaccines through the Covax mechanism, a World Health Organization (WHO)-led effort that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to coronavirus vaccines.
Still other governments have opted for a pair of vaccines developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology and China’s Sinovac Biotech – the Sputnik V and CoronaVac, respectively.
With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Latin America now standing at more than 16.7 million (9 million of them in Brazil) and rising quickly, the nations of that region face the urgent task of inoculating the majority of their populations in the near future.
Shortly after the United States became one of the first countries to launch a vaccination campaign, the first plane loaded with Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine for the Latin American market arrived on Dec. 23 in Mexico, which purchased 34.4 million doses.
The Mexican rollout began a day later but is advancing slowly, with only 624,105 total doses having been administered and just 28,715 people having received the necessary second dose of that vaccine.
The government’s goal is to inoculate all health personnel by the end of January and then start vaccinating the elderly population in February.
The objective for 2022 is to have inoculated all 126 million Mexicans free of charge using Pfizer’s vaccine, as well as those produced by AstraZeneca-University of Oxford (77.4 million doses negotiated), China’s CanSino Biologics (35 million) and Russia’s Gamaleya (24 million).
VACCINE ROLLOUTS IN CHILE, COSTA RICA, ECUADOR AND PANAMA
Chile, which also has chosen Pfizer, has likewise been an immunization pioneer in Latin America, having administered at least one dose of that vaccine to 56,549 people through Jan. 26 and both doses to nearly 10,000 people.
Now immersed in a second wave of the pandemic, that nation of 17.6 million people is counting on using 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 10 million doses of Sinovac’s jab and 6 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot.
Costa Rica, home to 5 million inhabitants, is looking to inoculate 1.5 million people with the Pfizer vaccine, 500,000 individuals with AstraZeneca’s shot and 1 million people through the World Health Organization’s Covax mechanism.
It has so far administered 45,707 initial doses of the Pfizer jab and 2,421 second doses.
Ecuador, for its part, launched a “pilot phase” on Jan. 21 that will entail administering 8,000 vaccines to health workers, elderly adults and nursing home personnel.
The country of 17 million people plans to receive a total of 2 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine this year, 5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot, 4 million doses from the New York-based Covaxx company and 8 million through the Covax mechanism.
Panama, with a population of around 4.2 million, began its immunization campaign timidly on Jan. 20 after receiving a first shipment of 12,840 doses from Pfizer.
Brazil, which has come under criticism for a delayed start to its vaccine rollout, has imported 2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India and has 10 million more doses of the vaccine developed by Sinovac.
That supply, however, is nowhere near sufficient to inoculate its 212 million inhabitants.
Rightist President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent China critic who has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, sparked controversy last October when he objected to the purchase of Sinovac’s vaccine, although this month his administration agreed to purchase up to 100 million doses of that shot.
Bolsonaro had earlier alleged that the CoronaVac was ineffective even though it has been tested and manufactured by Instituto Butantan, a world-renowned epidemiological center affiliated with the Sao Paulo state health department.
PREFERENCE FOR RUSSIAN VACCINE
Another option Latin American countries have explored in the battle against the coronavirus is the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine.
Argentina, home to nearly 45 million people, began inoculating health workers after receiving its first shipment of 300,000 doses on Dec. 25 and eventually plans to immunize 10 million people with that vaccine.
Bolivia also signed a contract to acquire 5.2 million doses, with a first shipment of 1.7 million scheduled to arrive in March and two more shipments set for delivery in April and May, respectively.
As part of its plan for 100% coverage, that Andean nation of 11.4 million people also signed another contract for the acquisition of 5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Venezuela, home to nearly 29 million people and a close ally of Russia’s, announced on Dec. 29 an agreement with Moscow for the purchase of 10 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine and plans to start its inoculation campaign some time in the first quarter of this year.
LAGGING BEHIND WITH VACCINE ROLLOUT
Colombia has been lagging behind some of its regional peers, with the government having signed agreements with Covax to acquire 20 million doses and inked deals with Pfizer and AstraZeneca for 10 million doses apiece and Belgium’s Janssen, a unit of American multinational Johnson & Johnson, for an additional 9 million doses.
However, that country of just over 50 million has yet to receive any of them.
Uruguay has announced it will vaccinate all of its health workers in three days once a first batch of 200,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine arrive. That country of 3.5 million people has signed deals to acquire more than 2 million doses of Pfizer’s jab and 1.75 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine.
In El Salvador (6.4 million people), no exact date has been set for a vaccination drive involving the use of 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Expectations in the Dominican Republic (10.8 million) are that a portion of the 7.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 10 million doses negotiated with AstraZeneca shot will have arrived by March.
CUBA AND THE COVAX MECHANISM
While several Latin American governments try to come up with the money for vaccines, Cuba is working on four vaccine candidates and on Jan. 18 began a new phase of clinical trials of Soberana 02, which is being developed in collaboration with Iran and is the most advanced of the group.
The island says it wants to vaccinate a “significant portion” of its population before the end of the first half of 2021.
In another encouraging development, 280 million doses of vaccines are expected to arrive in Latin America this year through the Covax program, according to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is coordinating that effort along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO.
The beneficiaries have not been specified, but are expected to include El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Haiti.