More than half of Argentina’s population has now been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to official data – though the achievement was this week overshadowed by concerns over a lack of supply of Sputnik V shots.
The landmark arrives following a decrease in the numbers of both fatalities and confirmed infections over recent days.
On Friday, the Health Ministry confirmed that 15,622 cases and 286 deaths had been recorded over the preceding 24 hours, lifting Argentina’s cumulative totals to 4,737,213 and 101,158 respectively. Bed occupancy in intensive care units has also fallen, reaching 58.5 percent nationwide and 56.3 percent in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA).
According to the government’s Public Vaccination Monitor, at print time Friday, a total of 29,362,896 doses have now been given to citizens and foreign residents in the country. A total of 23,437,015 have received one dose, with 5,925,881 having completed the vaccination schedule.
According to Bloomberg New's global vaccination tracker, 51.6 percent of Argentina's population has received one dose, with only 13.1 percent receiving both.
In a message on social networks on Thursday, President Alberto Fernández hailed the news. "More than 50 percent of Argentines are vaccinated with at least one dose and we already have 40 million doses of vaccines in the country. In each of these photos we see the joy of being closer to the life we want. We continue vaccinating," said the Peronist leader.
Argentina has, to date, taken delivery of more than 39 million Covid-19 vaccine doses (12,9 million Sinopharm; 11.8 million Sputnik; 9.1 million AstraZeneca, but produced in Argentina; 3.5 million Moderna, donated by the US; 1.9 million AstraZeneca via the World Health Organisation’s COVAX scheme and 580,000 AstraZeneca-Covishield).
It emerged Thursday that the government has complained to Russia over delays in deliveries of the second dose of its Sputnik V vaccine, sending an email warning of breach of contract repercussions.
The missive, dated July 7, was sent to Russia's Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which financially backed Sputnik V. In it, Presidential Adviser Cecilia Nicolini warned Russian authorities that the shortages “are leaving us with very little options to continue fighting for you and this project!”
The letter said Argentina understood there had been "production difficulties,” but added that “now, seven months later, we are still far behind, while we are starting to receive doses from other providers on a regular basis, with schedules that are met.”
“We are facing legal prosecution due to these delays as public officials, putting at risk our government,” Nicolini told Anatoly Braverman, first deputy CEO at the state-run Russia Direct Investment Fund, referring to a conversation between Argentine and Russian officials. “We are again in a very critical situation.”
Underlining the extent of the fears, the Alberto Fernández administration official said that the lack of supplies has left the nation in a “very critical situation,” saying it puts the government at risk in the upcoming midterm elections.
Argentina has signed a deal with Russia for 30 million Sputnik V doses, of which it has received fewer than 12 million, according to Nicolini. It has received 9.37 million doses of the first shot, but only 2.49 million of the second, meaning roughly 6.6 million citizens or foreign residents are awaiting a second jab.
Inoculation with Sputnik V, produced by Russian institute Gamaleya, requires two doses that differ from one another and cannot be swapped or mixed with other vaccines. According to reports on Thursday, only 493,000 doses of the first Sputnik component and 257,922 of the second dose remain in Argentina.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday said “delays” in Sputnik supplies for Argentina were a result of the need to ramp up domestic vaccination as cases surged. “We’ve always said that the main priority is to ensure that Russians can get inoculated,” he said on a conference call with reporters.
He said the RDIF would resolve any issues with supplies to foreign customers – an implicit reference to Argentina’s situation.
Nicolini on Thursday played down reports of a dispute, saying that communication with Moscow is "constant" and "very good." The letter is not "a threat," she added.
Whatever it was, however, may have paid off – on Friday, the RDIF issued a statement saying it had held a meeting with Health Ministry officials to address concerns.
"After a virtual meeting between [Argentina’s] Ministry of Health of the Nation and the team of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) that took place today, we reaffirm our joint work to guarantee and accelerate the supply of the Sputnik V vaccine to Argentina," the fund said. "We are confident that we will resolve all problems in a positive way and that we will continue with the commitment we have made."
"In addition, as a result of our commitment, we were able to boost local production and we already have almost two million doses of both components approved or in the approval process for their prompt distribution," said the RDIF.
Argentina’s government was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic users of Russia’s Sputnik and started inoculating its citizens against Covid-19 with the Sputnik V vaccine outside of trials in late December. President Fernández was among the first to receive it in a public show of confidence.
Facing an initial lack of vaccines, the government intentionally prioritised getting citizens just a first dose. But Russia’s struggle to produce the second dose has left a gap in the number of Argentines able to complete the inoculation by the recommended period of three months. Despite clinching orders for hundreds of millions of doses of Sputnik, a slow start to production means only a fraction has been delivered, leaving some countries facing delays in their vaccination programmes.
Russia registered Sputnik V last August ahead of large-scale clinical trials, prompting concern among experts over the fast-tracked process. It has since been declared safe and over 90 percent effective in a report published by leading medical journal The Lancet, restoring confidence.
The RDIF has signed production agreements with several countries, including India, which is expected to produce several hundred million doses per year. The investment fund says its two-dose vaccine has been approved in 68 countries and that it has applied for registration in the European Union.