February 19, 2021
From Popular Resistance
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Above photo: Cuba debate.

In a world harmed by the severe COVID-19 pandemic, the access to vaccines is being distorted by the rules of the open market and the deep gap between rich and poor nations. As the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently said, “the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” In a formal declaration the WHO warns that “in the majority of low and middle-income countries, vaccination has not even started which is a catastrophe as hospitals fill up.”[1]

The People’s Vaccine Alliance (a coalition of organizations such as Oxfam, UNAIDS and Global Justice Now) accused the three biggest COVID-19 vaccine producers, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, of strangling the global supply of vaccines because of their intellectual-property protections. The coalition denounces that these companies plan to produce enough vaccines to cover just 1.5% of the global population during 2021 while they remain “prohibitively expensive for many poor nations.”[2]

Latin America is currently working hard so its population is not left behind. Far from waiting for the US government cooperation (focused mainly on their own residents), Latin America has diversified its partnerships outside the US area of influence, by also building agreements with Russia and China. And Cuba leads the way to create its own vaccine, the first one from the Latin American continent, while Mexico and Argentina joined forces to take action and save lives.

Multiple efforts from a multipolar world

Over 17 million people throughout the region have been infected by the coronavirus[3] and over 600,000 people have died from the pandemic with Brazil and Mexico having a mortality of 228,795 and 162,922 people respectively.[4]  In the United States, Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have received regulatory approval. In Latin America, Pfizer and 3 other vaccines – AstraZeneca-Oxford, Sinovac and Sputnik V (from Russia) – have been approved by numerous countries.

These vaccines are arriving in Latin America but at a disproportionate rate compared to wealthier nations. According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, “90% of people in poor countries won’t be able to get the vaccine in 2021” as the “doses of two of the most promising vaccines have been almost completely bought up by wealthy nations.”[5]

At the same time, Cuba is in the final trial stages of Sovereign 2 and will be the first Latin American country to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. Mexico and Argentina have recently established the first joint partnership in the region to produce the AZD-1222 vaccine. The efforts of Cuba, Mexico, and Argentina can provide a model for other countries in the region to promote a comprehensive response to the pandemic to supplement the importation of vaccines from abroad. These comprehensive efforts are vital to close the gap of unequal distribution of vaccines between the wealthy and developing nations.

Cuba’s Sovereign 2 Vaccine

Cuba is the first Latin American nation to take the lead in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is being produced by Cuba’s advanced medical community. Specifically, Havana’s Finlay Institute of Vaccines (IFV) and the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) are developing a vaccine named Sovereign 2.[6] Cuba’s efforts have been recognized by the WHO. The island nation is the “first candidate in Latin America and the Caribbean to have a vaccine in the clinical phase,” according to José Moya, local representative of the WHO.[7] As Jenny Larsen of United National Industrial Development Organization points out, Cuba’s vaccine will mark a scientific milestone in Latin America as it enters the final stages of the trial process, “bringing the country one important step closer to producing Latin America’s first vaccine against the virus” which is the result of “[Cuba’s] decades-long investment in its biopharmaceutical industry” despite the economic constraints put on the nation by the U.S. economic blockade.[8] The U.S. embargo on Cuba has not stalled the rapid development of Cuba’s medical field.

The third and final stage is likely to include the initial inoculation of Cubans. Prensa Latina reports that during this period, Cuban health authorities plan to include 150,000 vulnerable people and residents in high-risk areas.[9] The Cuban government intends to distribute the vaccine to the entire Cuban population, possibly the first nation to do so. Cuban doctor Vicente Vérez Bencomo said that  “moving to commercial production of Soberana 2, we’re planning to have in the order of 100 million doses during 2021 and we will dedicate an important part of these doses to the full immunization of the country.”[10] The Cuban government has also introduced the idea to vaccinate all tourists that travel to the island.[11]

Cuba’s vaccine is attracting interest from several countries in need of the product. Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro said in August of 2020 that the ALBA bloc of eight leftist Latin American and Caribbean countries “supports Cuba’s efforts” while Mexico seeks “to approach Cuba about its vaccine.”[12] Cuba also intends to continue to provide medical support to developing nations by exporting the vaccine to those countries at zero or low cost. For example, the nation has signed an agreement to carry out trials with Iran’s Pasteur Institute, while Vietnam and Jamaica have expressed interest in importing Cuba’s vaccine.[13]

Argentina-Mexico Partnership on AZD-1222 Vaccine

Argentina and Mexico have agreed to partner on the mass production of a COVID-19 vaccine named AZD-1222. This is the only joint initiative in Latin America related to the production and manufacturing of a vaccine which uses similar ingredients of the British-Swiss one produced by AstraZeneca corporation and the University of Oxford.[14] The production and supply chain in the development process will begin in Argentina and end in Mexico. For example, as Sergio Held reports in BioWorld, Mexico’s pharmaceutical company, Liomont SA, will produce the vaccine using ingredients made in Buenos Aires by Mabxience SA, which is also part of Spain’s Insud Pharma Group, and in partnership with AstraZeneca.[15] The production and supply chain comprises the active ingredient being manufactured in Argentina and sent to Mexico, so that Liomont SA can finish the manufacturing process with the formulation, packing and distribution. The agreement is being financed mostly by the Carlos Slim Foundation.[16] The partnership is expected to produce 200 millions of doses for nearly the whole region, except Brazil.”[17] This effort will be in conjunction with the importation of the actual AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

AstraZeneca-Oxford Vaccine

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is a joint project by Oxford University and the AstraZeneca company. AstraZeneca is a British and Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company based in England. Currently, the vaccine has received regulatory approval in Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico.[18]

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is arriving by the millions of doses to Latin America. It is projected that 400 million vaccines will be directed to the most “vulnerable populations.” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador described the agreement as “good news” for  Latin America.[19] Argentina and AstraZeneca also expressed optimism about the vaccine. “[As]A new stage in this process begins. We feel hopeful and confident in achieving what we set out to do from the beginning: broad and equitable access, without profit for the duration of the pandemic,” said Agustín Lamas, President of AstraZeneca in Latin America’s division, while an Argentine regulator stated that the vaccine roll-out is “an acceptable benefit-risk balance.”[20]

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a joint project by the U.S. company Pfizer and German-based company BioNTech. This vaccine has received regulatory approval in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay and Panama.[21] Pfizer has a long track record of producing vaccines for numerous illnesses. For example, the company has a history of “ongoing focus on the prevention of pneumococcal disease” in addition to “advancing vaccines” related to meningitis.”[22] In Ecuador, health authorities will distribute the  vaccine among the Ecuadorian people older than 18 years.[23] The vaccination process is also set to begin in Uruguay. Carlos Murillo, Pfizer regional president for Latin America said that Pfizer is “honored to work with the Uruguayan government and to guide our scientific and production resources towards our common objective, providing the Uruguayans with a vaccine against the COVID-19, as quick as possible.”[24]

Sinovac

The Sinovac vaccine, known as CoronaVac, is produced in China. Sinovac also produces vaccines against hepatitis A and B, seasonal influenza, H5N1 pandemic influenza, and H1N1 influenza, among others.[25] Brazil is the only country that has granted regulatory approval for the Sinovac vaccine.[26]

Some scientists assert that the Sinovac vaccine has produced ambiguous results. Indeed, Brazilian researchers at Butantan Institute reported a “78% efficacy in preventing mild cases of COVID-19”[27] but later stated that the “overall efficacy rate fell to 50.4%.”[28] Despite the conflicting efficacy rates, Brazil will continue with the vaccination rollout by Sinovac. São Paulo Governor Joao Doria stated that the Sinovac trials were “a victory for science […] A victory for Brazil.”[29]

Sputnik V

Sputnik V[30] is a vaccine produced in Russia and named after the first Soviet space satellite. Sputnik V is claimed to be “the world’s first registered [COVID-19] vaccine” produced by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology under the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation.[31] Numerous countries around the world are leveraging their assets to obtain this vaccine. Currently, regulatory approval for it has been granted by Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela[32] and Mexico.[33] This signals a growing medical partnership between Russia and Latin America. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stated that Venezuela and Russia signed an agreement with Moscow to access 10 million doses of Sputnik V[34] while Mexico  also has a partnership which includes a provision to train Mexican medical specialists in Russia.[35] Other countries with historical ties are going even further. For example, the governments of Nicaragua and Cuba have said that Russia could start producing the vaccine at local facilities.[36] Brazil is another Latin American country that is seeking regulatory approval of Sputnik V.  The process has been delayed but still continues.[37]

Conclusion

Several COVID-19 vaccines are being imported by Latin American countries. Pharmaceutical companies based in England, Sweden, China, United States, Russia and Germany are partnering with Latin American nations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the doses from abroad will not be enough to vaccinate the entire Latin American population as wealthier countries have been accused of hoarding most of the vaccines. Because of this, the region has diversified its partnerships beyond the US sphere of influence. The biggest effort comes from Cuba that will be soon the first Latin American country to produce its own vaccine. The island nation is expected to immunize their entire population as well as visitors while exporting doses to developing nations. Mexico and Argentina have established the first joint partnership in the region to produce their own vaccine – AZD-1222 – which will be distributed to Latin American countries. The efforts of Cuba, Mexico and Argentina provide a model for the formation of a regionally comprehensive approach to vaccinate the entire population of Latin America.

Ruben Sierra was a 2008 COHA Research Associate. He studied Caribbean Literature and Music at the Casa de las Americas in Havana, Cuba in 2007. He has over 8 years of experience working with labor unions and non-profit organizations in California.

Sources 

[1] “Declaration: We must accelerate vaccine equity for all health workers – now,”

https://www.who.int/campaigns/annual-theme/year-of-health-and-care-workers-2021/vaccine-equity-declaration

[2] “How to stop vaccine nationalism from prolonging the pandemic,” https://fortune.com/2021/02/07/covid-vaccine-nationalism-global-south-inequality-coronavirus/

[3] Statista, “Number of confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Latin America and the Caribbean,” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1101643/latin-america-caribbean-coronavirus-cases/ (accessed on February 17, 2021).

[4] Statista, “Number of confirmed deaths due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Latin America and the Caribbean,” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1103965/latin-america-caribbean-coronavirus-deaths/ (accessed on February 17, 2021)

[5] Shumaker, Erin. “Rich countries are hoarding the COVID vaccine: Report.” ABC News, December 9, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/rich-countries-hoarding-vaccine-report/story?id=74623521 (accessed on February 18, 2021).

[6] Xinhua, “Cuba to deliver 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses by April.” Xinhua Net, February 5, 2021. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2021-02/05/c_139723446.htm (accessed on February 14, 2021).

[7] Euronews. “Cuba aims to immunize its population this year with its own coronavirus vaccine.” January 21, 2021. https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/21/cuba-aims-to-immunise-its-population-this-year-with-its-own-coronavirus-vaccine (accessed on February 17, 2021).

[8] Larsen, Jenny. “COVID-19: Long-term support for biotech yields vaccine promise in Cuba.” United National Industrial Development Organization, February 8, 2021, https://www.unido.org/stories/covid-19-long-term-support-biotech-yields-vaccine-promise-cuba (accessed on February 17, 2021).

[9] Prensa Latina. “Cuba details emergency anti-COVID-19 vaccination process.” Prensa Latina Agencia Informativa Latinoamericana, January 26, 2021. https://www.plenglish.com/index.php?o=rn&id=63856&SEO=cuba-details-emergency-anti-covid-19-vaccination-process (accessed on February 16, 2021).

[10] Grant, Will (Cuba correspondent).. “Optimism as Cuba set to test its own COVID vaccine.” BBC News, February 15, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-56069577#:~:text=Some%20of%20the%20equipment%20at,washed%20walls%20is%20cutting%20edge (accessed on February 17, 2021).

[11] Augustin, Ed & Kitroeff, Natalie. “Coronavirus Vaccine Nears Final Tests in Cuba. Tourists May Be Inoculated.” New York Times, February 17, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/world/americas/coronavirus-cuba-vaccine.html (accessed on February 16, 2021).

[12] Marsh, Sarah. “Cuba leads race for Latin American coronavirus vaccine.” Reuters, November 12, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-vaccine-cuba-focus/cuba-leads-race-for-latin-american-coronavirus-vaccine-idUSKBN27S1OX (accessed on February 12, 2021).

[13] Larsen, Jenny. “COVID-19: Long-term support for biotech yields vaccine promise in Cuba.” United National Industrial Development Organization, February 8, 2021, https://www.unido.org/stories/covid-19-long-term-support-biotech-yields-vaccine-promise-cuba (accessed on February 17, 2021).

[14] Held, Sergio. “Latin America awaits COVID-19; race in the region is on.” BioWorld, December 23, 2020. https://www.bioworld.com/articles/501740-latin-america-awaits-covid-19-vaccine-race-in-the-region-is-on (accessed on February 16, 2021).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Horwitz, Luisa. “Timeline: Latin America’s Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine,” Americas Society/Council of the Americas, January 21, 2021, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/timeline-latin-americas-race-covid-19-vaccine (accessed January 25, 2021).

[19] Solomon, Daina & Cortes, Raul, “AstraZeneca set to start making 400 million COVID-19 vaccines for Latam early in 2021,” Reuters, August 13, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-latam-vaccine/astrazeneca-set-to-start-making-400-million-covid-19-vaccines-for-latam-early-in-2021-idUSKCN2591Y1 (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[20] Laing, Aislinn. “Argentine regulator approves AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine – AstraZeneca,” Reuters, December 30, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-argentina-astrazen/argentine-regulator-approves-astrazeneca-oxford-covid-19-vaccine-astrazeneca-idUSKBN29421P (accessed January 25, 2021).

[21] Horwitz, Luisa. “Timeline: Latin America’s Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine,” Americas Society/Council of the Americas, January 21, 2021, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/timeline-latin-americas-race-covid-19-vaccine (accessed January 25, 2021).

[22] Pfizer, “Developing Vaccines and Immunizations,” https://www.pfizer.com/science/vaccines, (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[23] teleSUR, “Ecuador to Receive 50,000 Doses of Pfizer Vaccine,” teleSUR, January 7, 2021, https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Ecuador-Set-to-Receive-50000-Doses-of-Pfizer-Vaccine-20210107-0004.html (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[24] MercoPress. South Atlantic News Agency, “Pfizer and BioNTech anticipate 2 million doses for Uruguay during 2021,” January 24, 2021, https://en.mercopress.com/2021/01/24/pfizer-and-biontech-anticipate-2-million-doses-for-uruguay-during-2021 (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[25] SINOVAC, Company Profile, http://www.sinovac.com/?optionid=749 (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[26] Horwitz, Luisa. “Timeline: Latin America’s Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine,” Americas Society/Council of the Americas, January 21, 2021, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/timeline-latin-americas-race-covid-19-vaccine (accessed January 25, 2021).

[27] Moutinho, Sofia & Cohen, Jon. “Brazil announces ‘fantastic’ results for Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine, but details remain sketchy,” Science Magazine, January 7, 2021, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/01/brazil-announces-fantastic-results-china-made-covid-19-vaccine-details-remain-sketchy (accessed on January 7, 2021).

[28] Lee, Yen Nee, “Sinovac Vaccine is 50% Effective – Lower than Announced Earlier,” CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/13/chinas-sinovac-vaccine-reportedly-50point4percent-effective-in-brazilian-trial.html (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[29] Fonseca, Pedro & McGeever, Jamie, “Brazil clears emergency use of Sinovac, AstraZeneca vaccines, shots begin,” Reuters, January 17, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-brazil/brazil-clears-emergency-use-of-sinovac-astrazeneca-vaccines-shots-begin-idUSKBN29M0M3 (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[30] Jones, Ian & Roy, Polly. “Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears safe and effective.” The Lancet, February 2, 2021. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00191-4/fulltext (accessed on February 18, 2021).

[31] Sputnik V, General Information, https://sputnikvaccine.com/about-vaccine/ (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[32] Horwitz, Luisa. “Timeline: Latin America’s Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine,” Americas Society/Council of the Americas, January 21, 2021, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/timeline-latin-americas-race-covid-19-vaccine (accessed January 25, 2021).

[33] Reuters Staff, “Russia to supply Mexico with 24 million COVID-19 vaccines, president says,” Reuters, January 25, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-mexico-russia/update-1-mexicos-president-thanks-putin-for-vaccine-shipments-idUSL1N2K01CU (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[34] Dogan, Sinan. “Venezuela to buy 10 million Sputnik V vaccines,” Anadolu Agency, December 30, 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/venezuela-to-buy-10-million-sputnik-v-vaccines/2092954 (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[35] TASS Russian News Agency, “Putin discusses supplies of Russian Sputnik V vaccine with Mexican president,” January 25, 2021, https://tass.com/economy/1248665 (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[36] Bristow, Matthew, “Putin’s Allies Are Ordering Sputnik Vaccine Across Latin America,” Bloomberg, January 7, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-07/bolivia-joins-other-moscow-allies-betting-on-russian-vaccine (accessed on January 25, 2021).

[37] Reuters Staff, “Brazilian approval of Sputnik V vaccine delayed by missing data,” Reuters, January 16, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-brazil-sputnik/brazilian-approval-of-sputnik-v-vaccine-delayed-by-missing-data-idUSKBN29M06X (accessed on January 25, 2021).




Source: Popularresistance.org