Vaccine geopolitics

Can Bolivia really produce the Sputnik V vaccine locally?

Latin American countries, with the exception of Chile and Uruguay, continue to face vaccine shortages. In an attempt to tackle this challenge, Bolivian Health Minister Jeyson Auza outlined plans to follow Argentina and produce vaccines, including the Sputnik V, in-country.

The CEO of a pharmaceutical company in Bolivia elaborates on this, “The government of President Arce started the acquisition of vaccines only last February and found that there are almost no doses available. So far, only 1.6 million doses have arrived to Bolivia, which will reach an estimated 7% of the population. At this rate it will take 2 more years to have a massive vaccination.”

“So far, only 1.6 million doses have arrived to Bolivia, which will reach an estimated 7% of the population. At this rate it will take 2 more years to have a massive vaccination.”

CEO, pharmaceutical company, Bolivia

Given the above, and in the face of rising public discontent, the government decided to launch a strong campaign of action. On the one hand, they are deepening communication efforts to show that the lack of vaccines is a global problem and that rich countries are to blame.

On the other hand, the Bolivian government has claimed to be in negotiations with Russia to be able to produce vaccines in Bolivia. The obvious question regarding the above is why Russia? After all, Russia is not a great trading or political partner for Bolivia.

An obvious explanation seems to be the so-called geopolitics of vaccines, a Bolivian diplomat elaborates, “It is no coincidence that the Sputnik vaccine was the first to reach the region. It is clear that socialist governments, formerly part of the Sao Paolo Forum and now better represented as the Puebla Group, have a common line with Russia and China on their vaccine strategy. It should not be forgotten that until February this year, the Bolivian government had no contract for the purchase of vaccines and the first doses of Sputnik arrived as a salvation for President Arce. This was a kind of donation from Argentina with Russia’s approval. This allowed Arce to buy valuable time.”

“Socialist governments, formerly part of the Sao Paolo Forum and now better represented as the Puebla Group, have a common line with Russia and China on their vaccine strategy.”

Diplomat, Bolivia

The Bolivian diplomat categorically affirms that the Putin government has very strong ties with the Movement for Socialism (MAS), “Although the Morales administration signed some cooperation memoranda with Russia, it is now clear that it is Russia that has decided to deepen the relationship and it is through the Argentinian President, Alberto Fernandez, that they are putting pressure on Bolivia,” continues the diplomat.

Regarding production in Bolivia, the CEO of one of the main pharmaceutical companies stated that realistically speaking, Bolivia could produce the vaccine but substantial investment is needed, “There are 5 laboratories that could start production on the short-term but it requires investment. Argentina clearly has a much larger production base than Bolivia, but vaccine production is not that complex.”

So, on the topic of investment it is clear that the government must play an important role, “It will take a lot of investment and although it is known that at this time the State does not have the resources to make alliances, its support will be key on two issues. The first is to quickly approve the sanitary and technical regulations to authorise production. The second is already more complex: incentives are needed to encourage investment. Today, it is very difficult for national and international capital to dare to invest in the country.” In addition, the source emphasises that it will be necessary to increase the import of inputs for manufacturing and that the government should now enter into agreements mainly with China.

“In the end, the Bolivian government will not sign any contract to produce the vaccine and, as a member of the same bloc, it will end up buying from Argentina.”

Diplomat, Bolivia

The Bolivian diplomat is sceptical and beyond the potential capabilities, he remembers that Argentina already has authorisation to produce the Sputnik vaccine in its territory and given that the Bolivian market is so small, he sees this simply as propaganda. “In the end, the Bolivian government will not sign any contract to produce the vaccine and, as a member of the same bloc, it will end up buying from Argentina. Russia is interested in Bolivia as part of the bloc. Russia has no specific or particular interest in Bolivia, so Arce will end up following what Moscow says. The latest UN vote a few days ago, in which Bolivia voted against the responsibility to protect, gives an indication of how Putin is operating. This issue is not of interest to Bolivia, which decided to set a disastrous precedent by following Moscow.”

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