Calling the shots

Billionaires, not politicians, bring potential COVID-19 vaccine to LatAm.

Argentinian President Fernández has recently announced that mAbxience (part of Grupo Insud, Argentina) and Laboratorios Liomont, S.A. (Mexico) have agreed a deal, with the financial backing of the Carlos Slim Foundation, for the entire region (excl. Brazil) to access a potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca.

The agreement is for the potential vaccine to be produced in Argentina before being packaged and distributed across Latin America through Mexico. For technical reasons apparently Sanofi and Liomont, with enormous production facilities in Mexico, don’t have capacity to produce the vaccine so Grupo Insud came to the rescue. Critics have an alternative theory, “Argentina is attractive for production because of weak intellectual property enforcement”.

“The deal is altruistic in public but lucrative in reality.”

Pharmaceutical company executive.

Grupo Insud’s owner, billionaire Hugo Sigman, seems to be at the centre of the deal and was at pains to stress this was a deal between private actors with no political involvement. This seems unlikely. According to our sources in Argentina, “Sigman is personal friend of Fernández, is close to Argentina’s Minister of Health, Ginés González García, and a good friend and donor to Juan Manzur, Governor of Tucumán, former Minister of Health under Kirchner and confidant of President Fernández”. Fernández and AMLO’s friendship is also no secret. Sigman also most likely brought in Slim, who is a close friend with shared business interests and also enjoys favour with the Argentinian government, “Fernandez has confessed an ideological affinity and admiration for Juan Manuel Abal Medina, Slim’s main advisor in Argentina”.

The arrangement could result in the production of 150-250 million doses at a price of 3-4 USD per dose (lower than the flu vaccine) because all parties have agreed not to profit from production: Slim’s charity is funding the costs and Insud is prepared to start production at risk. How generous! Our sources find it hard to believe that it will be entirely free, “Sigman’s links with the political world make it very clear that he will profit from this arrangement, one way or another”.

“It is an image-building move for businessmen and politicians to become heroes.”

Investigative healthcare expert.

So how clean is Sigman given his affinity for Kirchner’s administration which was well-known for corrupt practices? Well, two independent sources had questions around, “an agreement made in 2009 where the government agreed to acquire 30 million Avian Flu vaccine doses from Sigman, licensed from Novartis. This was far higher than deemed necessary, and apparently 65% to 70% of the doses went to waste. Ginés González García, the current Minister of Health and friend of Sigman and Fernández, and Juan Manzur, the Minister of Health at the time, were both involved in the purchase”. What a coincidence…

Let’s hope the COVID-19 vaccine doses don’t go to waste too!

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