The first formally approved batch of COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in Latin America was met ceremonies fitting a VIP on Wednesday: flags, television cameras and dignitaries lined up along the runway.
A DHL flight touched down at Mexico City’s international airport and ground crew unloaded the first batches of ultra-cold vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech.
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“Today is the beginning of the end of that pandemic,” said Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, one of the officials who came to see the plane land.
Mexico expects to receive 1.4 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech product by the end of January.
The first vaccines were due to be given to health workers in Mexico City and the northern city of Saltillo starting on Thursday.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would press for the vaccine to be used in additional areas as officials seek to reach workers at nearly 1,000 hospitals treating coronavirus patients nationwide.
Senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses are due to be next in line to receive vaccinations.
Mexico has recorded a total of 1.3 million COVID-19 infections and 119,495 deaths related to the disease, the fourth-highest death toll worldwide.
Shipments of the Pfizer vaccine are scheduled to arrive in some other Latin American nations this week and vaccine candidates from other producers have already arrived in Brazil and some other nations pending formal approval by their health authorities.
Brazil’s Health Ministry expects to have at least 150 million doses of vaccines against COVID-19 available in the first half of 2021, with a third or more coming from a Chinese company.
Arnaldo Medeiros, a health ministry official, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that an initial deal to acquire 46 million doses of vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech could soon be expanded to 100 million doses.
The Sao Paulo state government’s Butantan Institute is expected on Wednesday to present data from its late-stage trial of the Sinovac vaccine, called CoronaVac, which has already begun rolling off its fill-and-finish production line.
President Jair Bolsonaro had snubbed that vaccine, citing doubts about its “origin” and trading barbs with Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a political rival. But the Health Ministry has been eager to secure supplies of it as the global rush for vaccines heats up.
The federal government’s Fiocruz biomedical centre is also expected to begin fill-and-finish of the AstraZeneca vaccine in coming months, delivering the first shots on February 8. The ministry expects 104 million doses by June, officials said.
Separately, the ministry is in talks with Pfizer to receive eight million doses of the vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech in the first half of 2021.
No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved yet for use in Brazil.
Also on Wednesday, Argentina granted emergency approval for use of Russia’s Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine, the health ministry said in a statement, becoming the third country after Russia and Belarus to approve the vaccine.
The first doses of Sputnik were expected to arrive in Argentina in the days ahead, officials in both countries said. Some 42,254 people in Argentina have died of COVID-19 so far, official data shows.
“The product presents an acceptable benefit-risk balance,” said a statement from Argentina’s National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology, or ANMAT.
Some Western scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching large-scale vaccinations before full trials to test Sputnik V’s safety and efficacy have been completed. Russia says the criticism is unfounded.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, told Reuters that Argentina would receive 300,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine on Thursday. He said it was one of the largest shipments to Latin America of any vaccine.
“This is a very important step. We believe this is great news for Argentina for Christmas. We should all be trying to help each other given the circumstances,” Dmitriev said.
There was a big demand for Sputnik from other Latin American countries, Dmitriev said, adding he expected further news about Sputnik deliveries to the region in January.