With most of Argentina confined with a strict nine-day lockdown to tackle a brutal Covid-19 second wave, the government announced Monday that it had taken delivery of more than 1.65 million vaccine doses over the past two days.
A shipment of 843,000 vaccines from the United States represented the first batch of AstraZeneca-Oxford University shots Argentina has received from the total 22.4 million doses it initially ordered. The doses were manufactured with an active ingredient produced in Buenos Aires.
Argentina and Mexico agreed last August to jointly produce around 150 million vaccines for the AstraZeneca laboratory, with the active ingredient produced locally and packaging completed overseas. But the project has suffered significant delays due to a shortage of supplies in Mexico.
In order to speed up the process, enough active ingredient for around 900,000 doses, made in a private Argentine laboratory according to the government, were sent to be packaged at AstraZeneca's plant in Albuquerque, United States. The completed production made up the shipment that received at Ezeiza International Airport on Monday.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti and presidential advisor Cecilia Nicolini flew to Mexico City on Sunday. The duo are there "to finish certifying processes and to unblock any inconvenience [needed] to approve the batches," said Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero in a statement.
Officials also took delivery of 609,965 doses of Sputnik V from Moscow, the government said. Those jabs, which were carried by state airline Aerolíneas Argentinas, join another 204,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that arrived on Sunday, under the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Covax scheme.
Argentina received a total of 1,657,565 doses to "give continuity to the vaccination plan" currently underway nationwide, said the Frente de Todos coalition in a statement hailing the news.
The government has said it expects a total of some four million AstraZeneca doses to arrive from Mexico this month.
Vizzotti and Nicolini are also due to fly to Havana, Cuba, in the coming days to learn more about two of the four vaccines being produced on the island. Some reports have suggested that Argentina may offer to assist production efforts with those jabs under development.
As of Monday evening, some 8.8 million people had been given with at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, while 2.4 million were fully vaccinated with both doses. A further 1.5 million vaccine doses are being distributed across the country and are yet to be applied, according to government figures.
"During this week we will reach 20 percent of the Argentine population vaccinated, with at least one dose. Very important work is being done," Cafiero said in a statement on Monday.
The Cabinet chief, aiming a dig at opposition critics who have criticised restrictions and the slow pace of vaccination, declared that "the majority of Argentines want to be vaccinated and turn the page – the vaccination campaign offers a breath of hope."
Argentina, a country of 45 million inhabitants, is going through "the worst moment of the pandemic," President Alberto Fernández said last week, as he ordered a strict nine-day lockdown. The Health Ministry reported 22,651 new infections and 417 fatalities this Monday. Since March 2020, the country has now registered 3,562,135 confirmed cases and 74,480 deaths related to Covid-19.