Students from the public school system in the Brazilian state of Bahia undergo COVID-19 tests
Students from the public school system in Bahia undergo COVID-19 tests in the city of Salvador. Photo: Secretaria de Educação da Bahia/Fotos Públicas.
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The vaccine race against COVID-19 in Latin America

LABS gathered the latest information about the vaccine race in the largest economies in Latin America

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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 Mexico and Argentina‘s case, the first to initiate, albeit almost symbolically, the vaccination against COVID-19 in the region.

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

Brazil, the largest economy in the region and also the one with the greatest tradition in mass vaccination programs, was left behind. The first approvals of immunizers for emergency use are expected to come in late January.

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.

LABS gathered the latest information about the vaccine race in the largest economies in Latin America:

Brazil

Brazil, where a third of Latin America’s population lives, has two agreements signed and two protocols of intention sewn up to date. 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 Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (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. In the first week of manufacture, Fiocruz expects to produce 1 million doses, gradually increasing it. The Foundation should produce doses of the vaccine for Brazil and other Latin American countries, such as Argentina and Mexico.

Fiocruz filed the request for the vaccine’s emergency use in Brazil this Friday.

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.

READ ALSO: To get back on track, Latin America needs to find a never-before-achieved balance between structural reforms and monetary stimulus

This Friday, Butantan filed with Anvisa the request for emergency use of 6 million doses of the vaccine stocked in São Paulo. The governor of São Paulo, João Dória, hopes to start vaccination in the state next January 25. Anvisa has to respond to Fiocruz’s request in the coming days, making this plan tight but possible to be fulfilled.

The day before, Butantan and São Paulo’s government announced that the immunizer achieved 78% average effectiveness in tests carried out in the country. This means that 78% of people who received the vaccine did not develop symptoms. The other 22% had only mild symptoms.

In September, the Paraná state government signed a memorandum of intent for the acquisition and production of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Institute, through the state’s institute of technology, Tecpar. In December, however, the pharmaceutical company União Química, headquartered in São Paulo, filed an order with Anvisa to carry out Sputnik V phase 3 trials in Brazil – an essential step for the release of the vaccine in the country.

READ ALSO: Russia applies to WHO for an emergency license to use Sputnik

The government of Paraná informed that the intention to acquire doses of the Russian vaccine remains still stands. Still, experts say that the request made by União Química indicates that the laboratory is now responsible for the intermediation of the Russian immunizer in Brazil and Latin America.

In December, the federal government requested, and the Brazilian Congress approved almost BRL 2 billion to acquire Oxford’s vaccine. Later that month, the federal government issued a Provisional Measure opening an extraordinary BRL 20 billion budget to vaccination against COVID-19 in 2021. Even though it needs approval from the National Congress, as the provisional measure comes into effect immediately, in practice, the resources are already available to purchase vaccines, syringes, needles, and the logistics and communication necessary for vaccination.

READ ALSO: By ferry boat to riverside communities: how the pandemic boosted Bemol’s e-commerce in the Amazon

Eduardo Pazuello, Brazil’s Health Minister. Image: Screenshot.

On Wednesday night, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said, in his first statement on the national television and radio network, that Brazil “has already guaranteed 354 million doses of the vaccine against COVID-19”. He said the vaccination will start in late January, although the country has not yet approved any vaccines.

At a news conference the next day, Pazuello revealed that the federal government is negotiating a contract with the Butantan Institute to supply 100 million doses of vaccines against COVID-19 – 46 million by April and another 54 million doses by the end of the year. Also in October, when the Ministry of Health announced that it was negotiating a contract with Sinovac, President Jair Bolsonaro refuted the idea. It was all a smokescreen, as the negotiations apparently resulted in a final contract.

He said that all Butantan production “will be incorporated into the national immunization plan”.

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

  • 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines imported by Fiocruz;
  • 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

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.

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”.

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.

According to the Infobae, the country’s health surveillance agency ANMAT has already begun to receive vaccine trials and research for later approval.

In Latin America, late-stage clinical trials of the vaccine are being conducted in Argentina and Peru. Three thousand people participate in the studies in Argentina in four centers, three vaccination centers, and the Fundación Hupedes.

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.

Photo: Shutterstock

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.

On January 12, as reported by Reuters, Mexico’s Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that the country is also considering to buy 24 million doses of Sputnik V. “We’re thinking that we could use up to 24 million doses of this vaccine, for 12 million people,” considering that the vaccine requires two inoculations per person.

Colombia

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. 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. In addition, 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, which will be distributed in the coming months. There are also negotiations at an advanced stage to purchase 10 million doses of Sinovac‘s CoronaVac.

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.

Peru

On Thursday, President Francisco Sagasti announced the agreement to purchase vaccines from the Sinopharm laboratory, whose first batch of one million vaccines would be arriving by the end of the month.

“The purchase is for 38 million doses of vaccines, and it is expected to have between 14 and 15 million Peruvians vaccinated,” he said in a statement as La República newspaper reported.

A purchase agreement has also been signed with AstraZeneca, and as of September, the first doses of a total of 14 million will arrive.

Also, there is an agreement for 13.2 million doses of Covax Facility. While the date is not yet known, it should start in the third quarter of 2021.