Sharing a videoconference event with Russian leader Vladmir Putin, President Alberto Fernández confirmed Friday that mass production of the Russian-made Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine will begin imminently in Argentina.
"Next Sunday, an airplane will leave for Moscow to bring back the active ingredient so that production can begin immediately in Argentina," said Fernández.
Local pharmaceutical firm Laboratorios Richmond SA, based in Buenos Aires Province, will start producing ‘Sputnik VIDA’ as soon as possible, company officials said.
Argentina was the first Latin American country to approve the Sputnik vaccine back in December 2020. Since then, it has been approved in more than 65 countries, though not the United States or any nation in the European Union.
"We're delighted with the results from this vaccine because millions of Argentines' lives have been saved," said Fernandez, who praised Putin profusely, telling him the “people and government of Argentina are extremely grateful to you.”
Ties between the two nations have deepened after the Peronist leader agreed to buy the Sputnik vaccine, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, before the results of clinical trials were made available.
“In Argentina, we say we get to know our friends in difficult times,” said the Peronist leader. “And when we were going through a difficult time, the Russian government, Russia’s sovereign fund and the Gamaleya Institute stood by our side.”
"Argentina was the first country in Latin America to approve the vaccine and the second in the world. We are very happy with what we have achieved. It has been very valuable and we are very grateful to the scientific development of Russia, in which we always trust,” said the president.
"The people and government of Argentina are extremely grateful to you," he told the Russian leader, who smiled as he looked down at a page of notes.
Laboratorios Richmond SA will be tasked with producing the vaccine, with a capacity of making one million doses a month to begin with, according to a press release. The laboratory hopes to increase that to five million a month within a year.
Marcelo Figueiras, the president of the firm, said Friday that he hopes his plant could soon be producing up to 500,000 doses of Sputnik VIDA per week, but said production will be subject to the amount of active ingredient sent by Russia.
"If everything goes well, production begins next week. At this moment they are fermenting the active principle of component one of the vaccine in Moscow and as soon as they finish they send it here," he told state news agency Télam.
Speaking on Thursday, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said that initial production had gone well and that the firm’s first batch had been approved by its original manufacturers in Moscow. Richmond initially produced a batch of more than 21,000 doses for quality control checks.
"The Gamaleya Institute has confirmed the quality control of three consecutive batches of component one and three consecutive batches of component two," said the minister.
"Yesterday we were informed that the quality control was satisfactory and that we are going to advance in the import of antigens of component 1 and 2 so that Argentina is part of the Sputnik V vaccine production chain," added Vizzotti.
Another Argentine laboratory has been charged with producing the AstraZeneca vaccine, to then be assembled in Mexico, but the process has run into problems that have delayed production.
Argentina has administered 10.6 million coronavirus vaccine doses so far, including the Sputnik, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm jabs.
Argentina bet big on Sputnik last year as talks with other labs hit snags and production of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Latin America faced major delays. The country has received 8.9 million Sputnik doses this year, accounting for nearly half of its total vaccines, including 7.79 million doses of the first shot, and 1.14 million of the second.
The campaign faced public scepticism until a peer-reviewed study by The Lancet medical journal said the vaccine protects against the deadly virus about as well as US and European shots, and far more effectively than Chinese rivals. Now, critics caution against growing delays in receiving the second dose to complete the inoculation process.
Before Argentina’s national pharmaceutical regulator ANMAT had even approved the Russian vaccine in December, Fernández had already sent a plane from state-run Aerolíneas Argentinas to Moscow to pick up the first batch. In total, the airline has sent more than 15 passenger planes since December to Russia on 40-hour journeys to pick up vaccines.
Fernández, who received both Sputniks jabs himself, set expectations high last December, promising to vaccinate 10 million Argentines with Sputnik before the end of February, a threshold vaccinations only crossed in recent days.
Sputnik V is now approved by health authorities in more than 65 nations worldwide and its efficacy is more than 90 percent, according to studies.