MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico will begin bottling and packaging the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Wednesday, two days after Brazil refused to approve the shot.
Mexico has already received more than 1 million doses of Sputnik V in recent months. Ebrard said the state-owned company Birmex is working with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to prepare the bottling operations.
The announcement came after Brazil’s health regulator cited safety concerns while rejecting several states’ requests to import almost 30 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, prompting criticism from the Russian government.
During a visit to Russia, Ebrard brushed off criticism of the vaccine as “propaganda.”
“Mexico did not fall into the propaganda game against Sputnik V,” Ebrard said. “The evidence that we have from what the Health Department told me before this trip is that the million doses administered in Mexico have very good results.”
The five-person board of the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency unanimously decided late Monday that consistent and trustworthy data required was lacking for approval of the requests from 10 states, according to a statement.
The agency, known as Anvisa, said there were faults in all clinical studies of the vaccine’s development, as well as absent or insufficient data.
The agency statement said that analysis indicated the adenovirus on which the vaccine is based has the capacity to replicate, which could cause sickness or death, particularly among those with low immunity or respiratory problems. The Russian fund overseeing the vaccine’s marketing globally denied the claim.
The timing of Wednesday’s announcement appeared to put Mexico in the middle of a growing information war over the Sputnik vaccine.
A European Union agency said in a report Wednesday that Russia has launched a major campaign using ministries, companies and pro-Kremlin media to promote the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and spread fake news that the West and the European Union are trying to undermine the shot.
The report, which was compiled by the strategic communications branch of the EU’s external action service — essentially the 27-nation bloc’s foreign ministry — said that part of the campaign is to sow distrust in the European Medicines Agency, which also has not approved the Sputnik shot.
Mexico has already been bottling the Chinese-developed CanSino vaccine, as well Argentine-made AstraZeneca vaccine, as part of Mexico’s efforts to obtain more shots.
But Mexican labs have not exactly been stars at the process, known as “fill and finish.”
On Wednesday, Argentina’s Health Minister asked AstraZeneca Argentina for information on when the first doses of bulk vaccine shipped to Mexico for fill and finish would arrive.
Last week, Hugo Sigman, an executive of the Argentine manufacturer Grupo Insud, said delays in getting the doses were because the bottling plant in Mexico had difficulties in obtaining needed raw material due to “high global demand.” Glass vials and other supplies have been in short supply.
Ebrard said there had been delays “for various reasons” in bottling the AstraZeneca doses in Mexico, but said “they are being resolved” and that the Mexican plant should start delivering the vaccine in May.
In addition to Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and CanSino, Mexico has been using the Pfizer and Sinovac vaccines.
The country has received 16.6 million doses and given some 12 million shots, equivalent to a single dose for about 9.4% of the population. Mexico has vaccinated many of its senior citizens and plans to begin vaccinating people between the ages of 50 and 59 in May.
There have been over 215,500 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19, but Mexico does so little testing that many people die without having been tested.
A preliminary government review of death certificates suggested excess deaths attributable to COVID-19 reached 316,344 by the start of March. There have been 29,395 test-confirmed deaths since then, for a total of 345,739.
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