Students from the public school system in the Brazilian state of Bahia undergo COVID-19 tests
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Only five Latin American countries have started vaccination against COVID-19

LABS gathered the latest information about the vaccine race in the largest economies in Latin America. [Updated January 19]

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New information about negotiations or contracts already closed to acquire vaccines against Sars-Cov-2, the name given to the novel coronavirus, appears every minute. Latin America, the region that became the epicenter of the pandemic in May last year, today accounts for almost a third of the deaths caused by the disease in the world, despite accounting for only 8.2% of the world’s population.

Hit harder than other regions, some of the main Latin American countries started the race for vaccines as late as last year. This is the case of Mexico and Argentina, which reach 1,649,502 and 1,807,428 cases of COVID-19 respectively.

Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, the third country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases (8,511,700) and the second with the highest number of deaths caused by the disease (210,299), according to the mapping carried out by Johns University Hopkins, a reference in pandemic research, was left behind and, despite also having the greatest tradition in mass vaccination programs, was the last to start immunization among countries that have already started.

READ ALSO: Brazil surpasses 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19

The real-time mapping of vaccination worldwide by the University of Oxford shows that only five countries in Latin America have started their vaccination program: Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico took the lead on December 24; Argentina started on December 29 and Brazil on January 17. Below, the graph shows how many shots have been given in each country since then:

LABS gathered the latest information about the vaccine race in the largest economies in Latin America [updated January 19]:

Brazil

After approval for emergency use by the Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa last Sunday (17), the country started vaccination with doses of CoronaVac, produced by the Butantan Institute in partnership with the Chinese laboratory Sinovac. The initial stock of 6 million doses was distributed to Brazilian states yesterday (18), and Butantan still has a stock of 4.8 million doses.

However, the continuity of the vaccination program depends on the import of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API), a necessary input for the production of both CoronaVac and AstraZeneca, which is also manufactured in Brazil by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).

With two closed agreements (with Oxford/AstraZeneca and Sinovac’s CoronaVac) that provide for not only the purchase but also the production of vaccines in the national territory, the country can recover the time lost. It is even expected that it will be a supply base for these two immunizers to other Latin American countries.

READ ALSO: Coronavac is 50,38% effective, informs Butantan Institute; research included asymptomatic cases

The largest agreement, announced in June last year, is that between the federal government and the AstraZeneca laboratory for testing, purchasing, and producing 100 million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine in the country through a partnership with the Fiocruz.

Fiocruz has already requested the importation of 2 million doses from AstraZeneca’s laboratories in India to start vaccination here before using its own doses. However, although announced by the Federal Government, the arrival of doses last Saturday (16) did not materialize because India has not confirmed the supply to Brazil.

This Tuesday afternoon (19), the Indian government informed that it will start exporting doses to six countries – Brazil is not on the list. According to the India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles will receive the doses.

In September, the state of São Paulo signed an agreement with the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac for testing, purchasing, and producing doses of the CoronaVac vaccine through a partnership with the Butantan Institute.

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Between “practically closed” and confirmed negotiations, Brazil has:

  • 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines imported by Fiocruz that have not yet arrived;
  • 100.4 million doses of Fiocruz / AstraZeneca until July (gradual national production);
  • 110 million from Fiocruz/AstraZeneca (total national production) from August to December;
  • 42.5 million (probably from AstraZeneca) to be purchased through the international Covax/Facility mechanism, created by WHO to help developing countries buy vaccines against COVID-19;
  • 100 million doses of the Butantan Institute (announced on Thursday, but still pending final contract).

The Ministry of Health is also eyeing the vaccines of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, but these negotiations depend on overcoming divergences regarding the regulatory agency’s demands for the emergency use of the immunizer in the country.

Argentina

Last Saturday (16), Argentina received the second batch of Sputnik V, with 300 thousand doses of the vaccine; so far, 200,759 doses of the Russian vaccine have been used to healthcare professionals and essential service workers. The country has 1,807,428 COVID-19 cases and 45,832 deaths.

In December, the country began, almost symbolically, to vaccinate health professionals with the Russian immunizer. The Argentine government has allocated about $170 million to purchase these doses and is, so far, one of the nations in the region that has the most guaranteed doses, although it has been criticized by some experts for approving the use of Sputnik V “too quickly”.

READ ALSO: Airlines are engaged in the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines in Latin America

Argentina agreed to purchase 22 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and 25 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V. It also began negotiations to purchase another 15 million doses of the vaccine from the Chinese state laboratory Sinopharm, in tests in the country.

On Friday, Infobae reported that the Argentine government is planning to send a flight to Beijing to bring the first shipment of the Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm vaccine in the last week of January. The idea is to bring about 1 million doses of the vaccine in that first shipment but close a deal for a total of 15 million vaccines.

México

Although it was the first Latin American country to initiate vaccination, with 53,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine aimed at healthcare professionals, Mexico still negotiates most of the doses it needs to immunize most of its population against COVID-19. So far, 472,142 doses have been administered.

Mexico has 1,649,502 COVID-19 cases and 141,248 deaths so far, which places the country as the fourth in the ranking of deaths from the disease.

Photo: Shutterstock

On Tuesday (19), Mexico announced plans to administer 7.4 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine by end-March. In December, it announced agreements to acquire 77.4 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, 35 million doses of the Chinese CanSino and another 34.4 million doses of Pfizer. It also participates in the WHO alliance for developing countries Covax, through which it hopes to obtain 34.4 million doses.

Mexico’s health regulator Cofepris approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca on January 5.

Colombia

Colombia is now the second country in Latin America with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 1,923,132 cases and the third with the most deaths, reaching 49,004. In December, Colombia announced an agreement to purchase 9 million doses of the Janssen vaccine from the Johnson & Johnson group.

According to President Iván Duque, unlike other vaccines, Janssen’s immunizer only requires one dose per person. However, the doses have not yet arrived in the country. Vaccination is expected to begin just in February.

Previously, the Colombian government announced the acquisition of 1.7 million doses of Pfizer‘s vaccine and an agreement for 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Besides, Colombia expects to receive 20 million doses through Covax.

Colombia's President Iván Duque
Colombia’s President Iván Duque during daily broadcast on Wednesday, December 30. Image: Screenshot.

With Janssen’s latest agreement, Duque said Colombia would be able to vaccinate 29 million people. The country’s goal is to guarantee doses for at least 35 million Colombians (70% of the population).

Chile

At the end of last year, Chile announced a request for 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The third batch of which arrived in the country last week. The application started slowly – so far, 32,385 shots have been given since December 24, when vaccination started. Chile already has 673,750 cases of COVID-19 and 17,547 deaths.

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President Sebastián Piñera also recently informed that the country has been trying to guarantee the purchase of more doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Janssen (J&J) vaccines, besides those that will come via Covax, the WHO alliance for developing countries.

In total, Piñera hopes to guarantee at least 30 million doses for Chileans –enough to vaccinate 80% of the country’s 18.7 million inhabitants, since most vaccines require that each person take two doses.

Updated January 19.