Vaccine FOMO

Competition for vaccine access begins across Latin America.

The competition for pandemic-related medical supplies is cooling down, with global supply chains now established, but the competition for vaccine access is only just beginning and leaders are under pressure to find adequate coverage for their citizens. “This is a competition and some will be left behind,” insists a senior official at the Ministry of Health in Mexico.

In Latin America, there are various strategies being used to secure access to potential vaccines. Brazil has favoured bilateral arrangements, Argentina and Mexico have some bilateral arrangements such as with AstraZeneca and the Slim Foundation to manufacture the Oxford candidate for the region and then, there is the COVAX consortium being led by Gavi, CEPI and WHO.

COVAX’s stated aim is to provide equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine from multiple sources – apparently 18 candidates are under evaluation according to our sources. Almost all countries in the region have expressed interest to COVAX to cover between 10% and 50% of their population. A senior official at the World Bank told us, “The problem with COVAX is you don’t know which vaccine you are going to get and that’s a challenge for Health Ministers.”

“This is a competition [for vaccine doses] and some will be left behind.”

Senior Official, Ministry of Health, Mexico.

There are also some other arrangements, where countries that have offered to run trials will be given priority access to the vaccine in the future. Argentina has such an arrangement with Pfizer. The smaller countries in Latin America, such as Uruguay, do not have this negotiating power as it is not practical to run a trial in a small population with few cases of COVID-19.

The health official in Mexico explained their approach, “Mexico’s strategy has always been to diversify potential vaccine suppliers, given the demand and manufacturing limits, no single supplier could meet the demands of a single nation, nevermind a region. Mexico has chosen not to put all its eggs in one basket.”

The official told us that Mexico has 5 agreements with laboratories in the United State, China, Russia and Oxford/AstraZeneca, “There is a preference for the last option because part of the packaging and distribution will come from Mexico. We have received the Sputnik test kit for testing and approval. The relationship with China is also positive following our reciprocal donations of medical supplies.”

“The negotiating power of a country to run a trial in exchange for priority access to the vaccine comes down to the size of its population.”

Senior Official at the World Bank.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, has led these negotiations so far, which has ruffled some feathers within the Secretariat of Health, but the official we spoke to was keen to stress, “The important thing is to ensure sufficient supply of vaccines to the country.”

Looking to the future, the health official comments, “The progress of clinical trials is still the largest uncertainty, but there are other challenges once there is a working vaccine, for example, logistics will be complex. There are no advanced plans for this yet, but we are working on it.”

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