Argentina’s government has drawn up plans to vaccinate an initial 11 million people against Covid-19 next year, with officials pinning their hopes on three frontrunners.
A number of coronavirus vaccines are under development worldwide, with optimism rising that several could soon be on the market by next year. Earlier this week, the developers of two vaccines claimed their versions were more than 90 percent effective in recent tests.
President Alberto Fernández’s government – which says it already has agreements in place to purchase hundreds of millions of doses of two currently under development, Russia’s Sputnik V and another developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca – hopes to be deploying at least one by the end of the year.
According to reports, the government has also held talks with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which said this week that its vaccine, developed in partnership with German company BioNTech, was performing well in clinical trials.
According to the government’s 2021 budget, the full details of which emerged last week, the Health Ministry is planning to vaccinate over 11,214,921 people initially.
The Fernández administration intends to vaccinate at-risk groups and essential workers first, with healthcare professionals and the elderly prioritised.
Plans have been drawn up to create a central command unit within all provinces to guarantee the distribution and placement of the vaccine. The Health Ministry, provincial governments and the Army will lead the operation, with hospitals, health centres, schools and other buildings would be used as vaccination centres.
Volunteers are also expected to play a key role in the effort. In Buenos Aires Province, at least 13,000 people have already signed up to help staff the programme, Governor Axel Kicillof revealed this week.
Despite the mass roll-out, the government has said that taking a vaccine will not be compulsory. Seeking to calm fears that treatments may have been rushed to market without undergoing sufficient testing, officials have stressed that all vaccines will be subject to “analysis” and “due process.”
Any of the projected vaccines would have to successfully surmount all test phases and win approval from the national authorities. The views of global health organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, would also be taken into account.
On the horizon
Earlier this month, President Fernández announced progress on an agreement to purchase an initial 25 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia and 22 million of the AZD 1222 vaccine being developed by the AstraZeneca laboratory in conjunction with Oxford University. The Health Ministry allocation in the budget would seem to imply the latter on the basis of two shots per person.
A communiqué from the AstraZeneca lab last weekend confirmed Argentina’s purchase of 22 million doses of the Oxford vaccine for delivery in the first half of 2021 in the event of successful testing (it is now in Phase III, the last preceding authorisation). Relations with the Swedish-British firm are well-oiled thanks to their previous agreement for the co-production of hundreds of millions of doses for Latin America.
Pfizer’s vaccine is also on the horizon. The company said this week that if trials continue successfully, it plans to request authorisation from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) by the end of the month.
The government insists that it is maintaining negotiations with "almost all" labs and countries researching and developing vaccines against Covid-19.
In the face of widespread doubts about Sputnik V, Health Minister Ginés González García last week specified that "no vaccine will be compulsory." He added that the government wants “massive vaccination for an early start in our aim of lowering the circulation [of the virus] and mortality."
He further confirmed that all vaccines would be submitted to strict controls by ANMAT (Administración Nacional de Medicamentos, Alimentos y Tecnología Médica), Argentina’s equivalent of the FDA.
"We will guarantee that any Argentine being vaccinated can be absolutely sure that the vaccine has passed every test. There is no need to enter into the world of trade and geopolitical wars, talking up or running down one or the other," the minister said.
For now, the delivery date of a potential vaccine can only be pencilled in, though there are signs the window is beginning to narrow. President Fernández is increasingly talking up the idea that it is a matter of when, rather than if.
In a dialogue lasting over half an hour, the Peronist leader recently conversed with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the acquisition of 20 to 25 million doses of Sputnik V as from next month.
“If all goes well,” around 10 million people could be receiving the Russian vaccine after Christmas, he later announced at a press conference, adding that as many as 750,000 people could already be vaccinated next month courtesy of the Pfizer vaccine, again "if all goes well."
He also said that British and Chinese vaccines would be coming through in March according to other agreements, again if approved and clear of testing. Local outlets have also reported that other potential options – vaccines developed by Sinopharm and Janssen – are also on the table.
A total of 10 potential vaccines have now entered Phase III trials worldwide, tested by tens of thousands of volunteers. All the potential suppliers have “the highest technical quality,” the president assured.