The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has confirmed that it has reached an agreement that will see three million doses of the second component of the Sputnik V produced in Argentina over the next month.
Laboratorios Richmond SA, based in Buenos Aires Province, will begin producing the second shot of the Russian-made jab this week, said the sovereign wealth fund, which is in charge of the international deployment of the anti-Covid vaccine.
“The Russian Direct Investment Fund and Argentina’s Laboratorios Richmond SACIF pharmaceutical company today announced the Sputnik V vaccine produced at company’s facilities will become available for vaccination in Argentina starting from this week following successful quality control of test samples at the Gamaleya Center on August 3,” read a statement, which hailed the “technological cooperation between Russia and Argentina.”
An initial batch of 150,000 doses should be ready as early as this week, said the RDIF, with three million doses expected to be ready for use before the end of the month.
The news comes less than two weeks after Argentina appealed to Moscow for assistance, following severe delays in the delivery of Sputnik V second doses. The Russian vaccine has two components which are different and not interchangeable, with the second shot due to be given within three months of the first.
Cecilia Nicolini, an adviser to President Alberto Fernández complained in an email to the RDIF last month that Russia was not meeting its scheduled delivery targets. Nicolini said the shortage in supply was putting the government “at risk,” both electorally and legally.
Argentina, which was one of Sputnik’s earliest backers, originally agreed to purchase 30 million doses of Sputnik V, but to date it has only received some 11.86 million shots – made up of 9.37 million of the first component and 2.49 million of the second.
To date, the vaccine has been approved by 69 nations, though it has not yet received an endorsement from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Argentina’s ANMAT drug regulator approved Sputnik V for use towards the end of 2020, becoming the first country in Latin America to do so.
‘Proud to partner’
Government officials in Moscow and Buenos Aires celebrated the news, while the vaccine’s backers said it would get shots to citizens in Argentina sooner.
“Thanks to the partnership between the RDIF and Laboratorios Richmond, people in Argentina will obtain access to locally produced Sputnik V vaccine. It will increase the scale of vaccination, reducing time and logistic costs,” said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
“We at Richmond are very happy and proud to partner with the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Gamaleya Centre to produce the Sputnik V vaccine in Argentina,” said Marcelo Figueiras, President of Laboratorios Richmond.
“We are proud of our scientific team that worked jointly with Gamaleya’s experts to ensure we can produce the vaccines that will help us save Argentine lives. Today is a very important day because we have reached a milestone, which prompts us to continue our hard work to achieve more vaccines for more people,” he added in a statement.
“Collaborating within this process helps our people to get access to the Sputnik V vaccine that has shown one of the highest efficacy and safety profiles among other advantages,” said Figueiras.
Argentina is not the only country that has signed agreements for the Sputnik V vaccine and is now scrambling to obtain doses.
Guatemala said last week it was looking for alternative manufacturers for the eight million doses it ordered from Russia, while Brazil has said it no longer needs the 10 million doses it contracted in March because it has already obtained other supplies. Lack of supply has also sparked protests at vaccination centres in Bolivia.
In recent weeks, Argentina’s government has sought to accelerate its mass vaccination programme amid fears over the spread of the so-called ‘Delta’ variant of Covid-19, which health experts say is more contagious.
Faced with a shortage of Sputnik V shots, the authorities have begun trials that mix vaccines. Speaking Wednesday, Buenos Aires City Health Minister Fernán Quirós revealed that the first results would be known this week.
"In the middle of the week we will be finishing the analysis of the first two groups" of the study, said Quirós, a doctor-turned-opposition politician. "The only thing we need to guarantee is immunogenicity," he added.
All the volunteers in the trials had received the first dose of Sputnik V and then were given either the AstraZeneca-Oxford or the Sinopharm vaccine as the second. Studies with the jab from Moderna, produced in the United States, started later.
Argentina, with 45 million inhabitants, has recorded about 4.95 million infections and more than 106,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
As of Tuesday night, some 25.3 million Argentines (56.2 percent) have received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 7.3 million of those (16.3 percent) have completed their vaccine schedules.