Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof announced Friday that his government had signed a provisional agreement to purchase an initial 10 million doses of the Indian-made Covaxin vaccine.
"It is a very important announcement for us, not just because of the effort we are making, but also because of the administrative feat that happened to fulfill this contract," said Kicillof at a press conference, flanked by Cabinet Chief Carlos Blanco and provincial Health Minister Daniel Gollán.
The deal, the first confirmed by a regional administration in Argentina and not the national government, also allows for an additional five million Covid-19 vaccine doses further down the line, added.
Once acquired, the vaccines would be offered "to the national government for distribution among all the provinces of Argentina," said Kicillof, declaring that this was not a race to see which region could immunise its residents first.
Kicillof said there was no deadline for the arrival of the Covaxin doses and that the national government had been kept well abreast of negotiations. He said the shots would “complement” the national vaccination programme, though warned the deal was “conditional” and subject to four factors.
"It is a contract conditioned to different situations that must be fulfilled and that is complementary to the work with the Nation," said the governor, who warned about a worldwide "run" on vaccines as coronavirus second waves hit nations across the globe.
First, the shot must receive approval from Argentina's national drug regulator ANMAT (Administración Nacional de Medicamentos, Alimentos y Tecnología Médica). Results from the vaccine’s trials are already being studied, said Kicillof.
The arrival of the doses is also dependent on vaccine availability in India, said the governor, as well as the production capacity of Bharat Biotech, the Indian laboratory that manufactures the jab. Supply must be guaranteed by the lab in order to seal the agreement, added Kicillof.
Providing information on the shot, Gollán said that Covaxin had proven to be 82 percent effective in Phase III clinical trials and was able to withstand temperatures of up to 25 degrees Celsius, making its transportation easier than most other vaccines. Branded as India’s first “indigenous vaccine,” the shot was developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology (NIV).
Gollán keenly stressed the vaccine’s qualities, saying its ability to last a few days at high temperatures would make it “very handy” in reaching “rural populations.”
Using the presser to score some political points, Kicillof called on the opposition to “stop messing around” with the vaccine issue and to “bring some vaccines and help.”
He said that constant criticism over the delayed arrival of other shots meant he would provide a delivery date for the Covaxin doses.
"If there was a climate of greater cooperation and empathy, not with the government but with the people, it would be easier," fired off Blanco, who criticised “the opposition and the media” for Argentina’s Covid-19 high death toll.
Kicillof also announced that his government was extending its vaccination programme to all residents aged over 70 who had not previously registered. Elderly bonaerenses will now be able to turn up at a vaccination centre with just their DNI identity card in order to receive a jab.
The governor said that 52 districts in the province had already vaccinated all at-risk groups (people aged over 60, with or without existing conditions), though he recognised some had slipped through the net.
"We need to deepen and reach the last door with the vaccination registration campaign," he said.