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ARGENTINA | 20-03-2021 07:18

Vaccine delays force government onto defensive, Fernández preaches caution

President Fernández admits Argentina has received only 6% of the vaccines it has ordered, as another shipment of 330,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine lands at Ezeiza.

President Alberto Fernández has defended his government’s vaccination programme against Covid-19, saying the relative lack of vaccines against the novel coronavirus in the country is a reflection of supply issues across the wider world.

Speaking Thursday, Fernández said Argentina had received a fraction – just six percent – of the vaccine doses it had ordered. Previously government officials said agreements were in place to allow for 65 million doses.

"Only 15 countries have received more than 10 percent of the vaccines they bought. We have received only six percent of the doses that we contracted," he revealed.

"Up to today four million doses have arrived in the country, six percent of the doses that we have contracted. About three million doses have been applied to Argentines and Argentines," he added.

"Is everything turning out as we expected? No. Because there is a global delay in the production of vaccines," he told the nation.

"As is the case around the world, the vaccines that we had acquired are unfortunately taking longer to arrive. Our suppliers have had difficulty scaling up production and have not been able to deliver in the timeframe they had planned. The truth is that even the richer countries have had negotiations and tensions with suppliers," argued Fernández.

Criticism

The president delivered his comments in a surprise ‘cadena nacional’ national broadcast on Thursday night, which aired less than an hour after Mauricio Macri had criticised the government for its failure to acquire more vaccines. The former president claimed Fernández’s  recent shifts in foreign policy had prevented access to more shots.

Addressing the nation, the Peronist  leader preached caution amid fears of a Covid-19 second wave. Fears are growing in the government about the impact of a potential second wave, especially given that neighbouring Brazil is registered record caseloads by the day.

"Regardless of political or social differences, we want collective care and vaccination. To prevent and reduce as much as possible the impact of the second wave, I ask that all of us respect the main prevention measures," Fernández said, speaking almost a year to the day since he ordered an initial strict lockdown to tackle the spread of the virus.

The Peronist leader told citizens it was "totally inadvisable" to travel overseas and warned about new strains of the virus that are circulating, especially in Latin America. He said the population must "continue taking care of ourselves and deepen prevention measures" to ensure protection against infection.

Given the heavy increase of cases in neighbouring countries and in the region and "a trend towards increased cases" in Argentina, the government is seeking to "discourage" all travel abroad unless absolutely necessary, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said Friday.

"We’re discouraging travel not only because of the individual’s own risk of falling sick but also because of the sanitary risk of bringing the virus into the country, including variants which could carry greater complications," she added.

New Sputnik shipment arrives

Despite the relative shortage, there was good news for the government on Friday, when a shipment carrying 330,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine arrived at Ezeiza international airport. All the new doses correspond to the first round of vaccination.

The cargo will boost a process which has already seen almost three million doses inoculated, Vizzotti said at a Casa Rosada press conference. 

According to the Federal Monitor of Vaccination, 2,939,364 doses of the 3,843,565 vaccines distributed nationwide have been given so far, although only 556,505 people have received their second dose.

The vaccines Argentina has in stock are Sputnik V (a product of the Russian lab Gamaleya), China’s Sinopharm and some 580,000 doses of Covishield from India’s Serum Institute, prepared thanks to technology transfer from the Oxford/AstraZeneca lab.

Following a work meeting of the Federal Health Council (Cofesa, in its Spanish acronym) with her provincial colleagues, Vizzotti also confirmed the upcoming arrival of a further three million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, whose purchase was signed last week. She admitted, however, that a delivery date was as yet unknown.

"The objective is to minimise the impact of mortality. That is achieved by vaccinating those most at risk, those aged over 60 and with prior illnesses," said Vizzotti, adding: "We’re seeking to have as many people receive the first dose as soon as possible in order to lower the mortality."

The government is analysing giving priority to inoculating the first dose of the various vaccines in as many people as possible, deferring the second dose for further ahead.

The minister reportedly evoked the good results from that procedure in the experience of the United State, Canada and Israel.

Argentina, with a population of around 45 million, has recorded more than 2.23 million confirmed cases and more than 54,000 fatalities from Covid-19 to date.

– TIMES with AFP

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