President Alberto Fernández said Monday that Argentina has accepted a proposal from Russia to buy an initial 10 million doses of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine, with delivery expected before the end of the year.
The vaccine, which is given in two parts, could even arrive as early as next month provided clinical trials are successful, the president said in an interview with a Russian news agency. If successful, another 15 million doses could arrive in January, he added.
The news comes just days after Perfil journalist Rosario Ayerdi revealed that Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzotti had travelled to Russia on October 17 on a fact-finding mission to learn more about the Russian vaccine, known as Sputnik V.
Fernández confirmed Vizzotti’s trip to Moscow, saying that presidential advisor Cecilia Nicolini had joined her to learn more about the vaccine and the results of trials. He implied that the visit had boosted optimism that a vaccine could be ready for Argentina in the coming months.
“We had a proposal from the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian [Direct Investment] Fund to see if Argentina was interested in having doses of the vaccine in the month of December and of course we said ‘yes,’” the Peronist leader told the Sputnik news agency.
"They would be in a position to give us 10 million of each of the two doses – which the vaccine requires – [and] we can have them in December here and in the first days of January we could have, as they tell me, 15 million more," he added.
He said getting a vaccine was "very important, because it would allow us to vaccinate vulnerable sectors in Argentina."
Reports Monday said that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has been supporting the development and global roll-out of the Sputnik V vaccine. Fernández revealed in his interview that talks had been going on “for quite some time.”
The president portrayed the move as hugely positive for Argentina, saying that 25 million doses could vaccinate more than half the population. According to Perfil, tentative plans have been set in gear to identify priority groups – such as health personnel, those aged over 60, those with risk factors, teachers and police – with around six million people qualifying.
"The National State has the possibility of acquiring, between December and January, 25 million Sputnik V vaccines developed by the Gamaleya Institute of Russia," confirmed the president in a post on Twitter later Monday.
Health Minister Ginés González García, addressing the news, said that "the trade agreement is not yet finished, but there is no doubt that we are going to do it."
Priority groups and samples
Russia announced in August that it had registered the world's first coronavirus vaccine, saying it would name it after its famous Soviet-era satellite.
The country, which intends to be producing up to 10 million doses a month by December, has applied to the World Health Organisation for accelerated registration and pre-qualification.
The RDIF, which finances the vaccine, says that accelerated registration would make Sputnik V "available globally in a shorter time frame than usual procedures."
However, some Western scientists have expressed concern over the Russian vaccine, warning that moving too quickly with the search for a solution to the coronavirus crisis could be dangerous.
In his interview, Fernández said that he would definitely take the vaccine once it had passed clinical testing. He even revealed that he had two doses of the vaccine personally, which had been gifted to him by Russian authorities, though he said he wouldn’t take it at the moment.
"I have two samples that they sent me from Russia at the beginning of the discussions, but it does not seem fair to me that I get vaccinated and other Argentines cannot get vaccinated,” he argued.
The president did not reveal the price that had been agreed with the Russian authorities, though a government statement later clarified it would be “more or less average” compared with others.
RDIF officials said production of the vaccine would take place with partners in India, Korea, China and “a number of other countries.”
Argentina has authorised at least 19 clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines, the Health Ministry confirmed to Reuters on Monday.
In August, the government also agreed to co-produce hundreds of millions of doses of another vaccine with Mexico, for use in Latin America, when it passes clinical trials. That development is led by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
Russian news agencies said Tuesday that Peru had also agreed to purchase the Sputnik V vaccine, joining Mexico and Brazil. RDIF officials said other Latin American nations were also holding talks.
The Russian vaccine is currently in Phase III clinical trials, the same level as the other favoured global candidates, which include the Oxford-AstraZeneca creation, as well as two others produced by Moderna and Pfizer.
Though it has not been approved, Russia says at least 3,000 doses have been given to doctors and the elderly.
38% willing to be first in line
According to a survey released Monday, 38 percent of Argentines would agree to be among the first to take a potential vaccine, while 45 percent would prefer to wait before doing so.
The poll, conducted by the Center for Public Opinion (COPUB) and the University of Belgrano, quizzed Argentines on whether they would take a clinically approved vaccine or not.
Of the respondents, 61 percent said they were optimistic that Argentina could have access to a vaccine by the end of the year, with 28 percent saying it would not arrive by the start of 2021.
Argentina has recorded more than 1.17 million confirmed infections of Covid-19 since March, with more than 31,000 fatalities.