Latin America turns to Russia for Covid-19 vaccines

Nine Latin American countries so far have approved usage of the Sputnik V vaccine — Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela. Distribution of the vaccine has also begun in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela.

The vaccine has been approved in 39 countries around the world, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which handles the marketing of the vaccine.

The Sputnik V vaccine has a cheaper list price and can be stored at higher temperatures than the Pfizer vaccine, which has made it appealing to Latin American countries with less-developed economies and infrastructures. It requires two doses taken 21 days apart to be effective.

Argentina became the first Latin American country to distribute the Sputnik V vaccine in late December, with the purchase of up to 25 million doses. The country has already distributed over 600,000 doses.

Since then, Venezuela and Mexico both received shipments of 100,000 and 200,000, respectively, in early February. Nicaragua began distributing the vaccine on March 2 after receiving a donation of an undisclosed amount of doses.

As Russia struggles to keep up with demand, some countries have received only very small shipments. Bolivia received 20,000 Sputnik V doses in January, though it expects enough to eventually vaccinate 2.6 million people. Paraguay announced the purchase of one million doses, but has so far only received 4,000.

 A nurse Injects the Sputnik V vaccine to the first doctor as part of the vaccination plan against COVID-19 at Hospital del Norte in El Alto, Bolivia. (Photo by Gaston Brito/Getty Images)

Russia has acknowledged the production squeeze and has considered launching regional production hubs in several countries, including Brazil, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Some interest has been expressed in producing the Sputnik V vaccine locally in Latin America. The RDIF recently announced an agreement with Argentina’s Richmond Laboratories to begin producing the vaccine in the country, though it has not yet provided a timeframe for delivery.

Experts have repeatedly voiced concern over transparency around Sputnik’s testing and its accelerated authorization in Russia. However, the vaccine was found 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 and 100% effective against severe and moderate disease, in an interim analysis of the vaccine’s Phase 3 trial results published in The Lancet.

Reporting contributed by Mitchell McCluskey in Atlanta, Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota, Tatiana Arias in Atlanta and Tim Lister in Spain.

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