Vaccine delays from Russia causing ‘very critical situation’ in Argentina

Delays in delivering Sputnik V second doses have the potential to leave millions of Argentines unable to finish their vaccination course

 A couple taking a photograph with their health books after getting vaccinated in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Crespo in Argentina. Photograph: EPA/Demian Alday Estevez

A couple taking a photograph with their health books after getting vaccinated in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Villa Crespo in Argentina. Photograph: EPA/Demian Alday Estevez

 

Argentina’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is facing a “very critical situation” because of delays in receiving vital second doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

A July 7th letter from authorities in Buenos Aires to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which oversees global distribution of Sputnik V, said the South American country “urgently” needs to receive scheduled supplies of second doses, warning the hold-up could lead to the public cancellation of their contract.

The delay in delivering second doses has the potential to leave millions of Argentines unable to complete their vaccination course because unusually for Covid-19 vaccines, Sputnik V is made up of two different jabs and full inoculation cannot be achieved by substituting the second jab with one from another manufacturer.

The letter cited a delay in delivering over 18 million doses, of which 13 million are second jabs for people who have already received their first dose. It was leaked to the La Nación newspaper, and its contents were later confirmed by government officials.

The supply issue is a blow for the government of President Alberto Fernández, which invested heavily in the Russian vaccine despite public scepticism. In December the country became the first in Latin America to approve Sputnik V for general use, and the third in the world after Russia and Belarus.

But since then the vaccine rollout, which as well as Sputnik V relies on China’s Sinopharm and AstraZeneca, has been plagued by supply issues. Only 12 per cent of Argentines have received two doses, compared to 60 and 61 per cent respectively in neighbouring Uruguay and Chile. After initial success in containing the pandemic Argentina has seen mortality rates soar to among the highest in the world, recording more than 103,000 deaths.

In the leaked letter Argentina’s government said it understood the initial supply problems before expressing discontent that the issue persists, noting that “now seven months later we are still far behind as we are starting to receive doses from other providers on a regular basis, with schedules that are met”.

US manufactures

Recently Buenos Aires has moved to modify legislation passed last year that in effect shut US manufactures out of the country’s vaccination programme as it is forced to look elsewhere to make up for the shortfall in supplies from Russia.

A Kremlin spokesperson acknowledged the “inevitable” supply problems, but noted that after a slow start vaccine take-up had accelerated in Russia, “and this is without doubt the priority”.

According to its manufacturer, Gamaleya Sputnik V is now authorised for use in 69 countries. However, in recent weeks there has been growing discontent among governments that have signed up for the vaccine. Last month Guatemala threatened to demand a refund of the $80 million (€68m) it paid for 16 million doses after receiving only 150,000.

Mexico and the Philippines have also reported supply problems. On Thursday Bolivia published a letter from the Russian Direct Investment Fund that said it would have priority over the next lot of Sputnik V available for export.

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