A shipment of close to one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm arrived in Buenos Aires late Thursday night to boost Argentina’s mass vaccination programme.
"We received 904,000 doses of Sinopharm and another 96,000 will arrive on Sunday to complete the million," Foreign Minister Felipe Solá said at a press conference after a flight from state carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas arrived at Ezeiza international airport, south of the capital.
The smaller second shipment is due to arrive aboard a KLM flight, he added.
Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti, Aerolíneas Argentinas President Pablo Ceriani and China's Ambassador to Argentina Zou Xiaol were also on the runway to witness the flight’s arrival.
"A very important cooperation agreement between the governments of the two countries has become a reality," said Xiaoli in comments to the press.
The Sinopharm jab, developed in collaboration with the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Laboratory of the People's Republic of China, will become the third coronavirus vaccine to be used in Argentina.
The government has so far managed to acquire 1.22 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from the Russian laboratory Gamaleya, and 580,000 doses of Covishield, a product from India’s Serum Institute, which uses technology supplied by the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
The government, which says it has deals in place for 62 million doses in total, hopes to be able to receive other shipments from the World Health Organisation’s Covax mechanism as well.
Argentina, a country of around 45 million, has so far registered more than two million confirmed cases and 52,000 deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Official figures show that some 800,000 people have been vaccinated so far, with healthcare workers and adults aged over 70 prioritised.
The Sinopharm shots will be used to immunise teachers in the short term, Vizzotti said this week. The decision to allocate doses to more than 500,000 education professionals was made after the national government launched the return of face-to-face classes earlier this month. Schools in all provinces should be re-opened by mid-March.
The shipment’s arrival is the product of successful negotiations with Chinese officials and the vaccine’s use in Argentina was approved by ANMAT, the country’s drug regulator, just last week.
According to reports, the inked deal, for an initial one million doses, allows for the potential purchase of 30 million doses at a rough cost of US$40 per jab, a higher price than other vaccines on the market. Productions chains are struggling to keep up with demand across the world, prompting governments to scramble for shots across the world.
The Sinopharm vaccine does have significant benefits however. It is easier to transfer and store since the jab only requires refrigeration between two and eight degrees Celsius. Its producers say initial trials have proven it to be 79 percent effective, with no abnormal side effects. ANMAT has only authorised its use for those aged under 60 for now.
Argentina and China have cooperated previously during the pandemic. Last year, Beijing supplied personal protective equipment for health personnel and other medical materials amid a shortage. A field hospital of Chinese origin was also unveiled on Thursday, designated for the use of Argentina’s Armed Forces.