In a bid to unblock production delays emanating from Mexico, President Alberto Fernández’s government has offered to manufacture the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine against Covid-19 domestically.
The proposal was made to the United Kingdom and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm last Monday, during a 40-minute meeting at the Casa Rosada with British Ambassador to Argentina Mark Kent. Health Minister Carla Vizzotti and special advisor Cecilia Nicolini outlined the offer, while also addressing delayed vaccine deliveries from the lab.
Argentina is already manufacturing the Russian-made Sputnik V jab and co-signed an agreement last year with AstraZeneca and Mexico, with the two Latin American nations hoping to produce hundreds of millions of doses to be used in the region.
During Monday’s meeting, the Argentine officials reclaimed from the British government the 60-percent down payment on a contract for 22.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which have yet to arrive. Vizzotti and Nicolini explained to Ambassador Kent that Argentina was already manufacturing the main component on schedule, guaranteeing that the country had the necessary technology to produce the complete vaccine, as well as to package it (now in Mexican hands).
Apart from floating the possibility of compensation via the Covax mechanism, Kent provided no concrete answer but pledged to continue the conversation.
“The proposal is to continue exploring the possibility of technical health cooperation with teams from the United Kingdom,” said Vizzotti.
“As we have communicated to the AstraZeneca company, we have asked the ambassador to seek more and better opportunities between the two countries, via the University of Oxford, sharing experiences and deepening contacts, to explore the possibility of being part of the chain of production of the vaccine in the short and medium term, not only for Argentina but also for Latin America, thinking of the strategic role of our country.”
On Monday morning the officials also held two further meetings (virtual this time) with authorities and businessmen from China and Israel to initiate “conversations about possible Argentine participation in the phase of research and the chain of production of the vaccine against coronavirus, apart from exchanging experiences regarding the vaccination campaign and the handling of the pandemic.”
The first meeting brought together the two ambassadors (Zou Xiaoli in Argentina and Sabino Vaca Narvaja in China), directors of Sinopharm in both China and Argentina, and representatives of Sinergium Biotech.
The second meeting contacted the Argentine Ambassador in Israel, Sergio Uribarri, the Hadassah International team headed by Argentine doctor Jorge Diner, Health Ministry officials and ANMAT (the Argentine equivalent of the Food & Drug Administration in the United States).
The previous week Vizzotti and Nicolini had met up with representatives of AstraZeneca Argentina to request information on the advances in production and quality control of the vaccine produced in the country, following promises of the first deliveries for early in March. The pharmaceutical company blames packaging problems in Mexico for the delays.
Apart from AstraZeneca and ongoing Sputnik V deliveries, Argentina is seeking new cargoes of vaccine against Covid from India (Covishield), China (Sinopharm) and the United States (Pfizer) while some days ago Foreign Minister Felipe Solá even turned to Cuba.
Last month, businessman Hugo Sigman and the AstraZeneca company were denounced in a federal courthouse in the framework of an investigation accusing them of having collected US$60 million from the Argentine state without delivering any vaccines in exchange.