The Sputnik VIDA vaccine, manufactured by local pharmaceutical firm Laboratorios Richmond, will be used "in principle for the Argentine State," company chief Marcelo Figueiras has confirmed.
Speaking after his company and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) announced this week that Argentina had become the first country in Latin America to begin production of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Figueiras expressed his delight at the “good news” and praised the skill of the nation’s scientists.
The 57-year-old then confirmed that the initial doses produced by the firm will be used “in principle, for the Argentina State, while the pandemic lasts.”
"We produce them, but the vaccines are from the State," he declared in an interview with Radio Con Vos, referring to support the company had received from the government. "As in the rest of the world, it is the states that have a monopoly on vaccines."
The initial press release from the firm and the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the state agency representing the creators of the vaccine, said the doses produced in Argentina “could be exported to countries in Central and Latin America at a later stage.”
Laboratorios Richmond SACIF announced Tuesday that it had produced the first local batch of the ‘Sputnik VIDA’ vaccine and that its first 21,176 doses were in Moscow for quality control checks at the Gamaleya Research Institute.
Speaking from Moscow, where he is overseeing the jab’s quality controls checks, Figueiras said Richmond’s existing plants could produce "up to five million doses, both of the first and second" shot, each month. He said, however, that the firm would start with a million "and if everything goes well" they will be ready "in June."
In order to meet that deadline, Figueiras said that he hopes to have the elements such as "seals, bottles, caps" in place and although he was optimistic, he warned that delays were possible.
According to the businessman, local production of the vaccine will be in two stages. The first – which began two months ago – involves production with the jab's active ingredient imported from Moscow. Formulation, filtering and packaging then take place at the company's plant in Pilar.
The second stage – which would enable the firm to ramp up production – will see Richmond manufacture the entire vaccine, though it will involve the construction of a new laboratory and plant beforehand. Preliminary agreements over the construction of the new plant and its required investment have already been signed, said Figueiras.
“We are very happy with the work we have been doing, he continued. We have delivery commitments for the first million vaccines. By June we will be producing, analysing and releasing vaccines, even if it is just the first doses. Afterwards, we would climb to five million [doses a month] and then, once the plant and the complete production cycle are in place, we will have vaccines for all of South America and Europe," he said.
The 57-year-old, who is well connected politically and married to a former national senator, highlighted the support he had received both from other firms in the business community and state agencies.
"Everyone came to contribute their grain of sand," he said.
Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas expressed his "pride" at the news on Thursday. He said "it was no coincidence” and suggested that the creation of Sputnik VIDA was a result of the government’s “political will to promote industry and to support the scientific and technological development.”
The minister said "it is not important only because the Sputnik V vaccine is being produced in Argentina but because, thanks to the support we are giving, there was a strengthening that will leave installed capacities for the long term.”
Not only the state looks set to benefit from the vaccine breakthrough. Richmond’s stocks surge 33.2 percent on Tuesday in the wake of the announcement, despite the benchmark Merval index slumping 2.4 percent overall the same day.
Earlier in the week, President Alberto Fernández hailed the news as a “great opportunity” for the nation and the wider region.
“We are very excited about the possibility of producing Sputnik V in Argentina, a vaccine with which we are already protecting a large part of our population with excellent results. It will be a great opportunity to advance in the fight against the pandemic not only in Argentina, but also in Latin America,” he said.
Argentina was one of the first countries in the region to approve the vaccine (ANMAT gave the green light in December 2020) and sign an agreement with Russia to buy and use Sputnik V. The doses the nation is currently using to inoculate citizens were produced in South Korea and India.
According to the Russian government, the jab has now been registered in 60 countries worldwide. Data shows the shot is 97.6 percent effective against coronavirus infection for individuals who have both doses.
Laboratorios Richmond first confirmed it had reached an agreement to produce the manufacture locally with the RDIF back in February. The firm said at the time that it would with a long-term partner, Indian laboratory Hetero Labs Limited, to produce Sputnik V.
The firm received technical and financial support from the Productive Development Ministry, which granted a loan of almost 30 million pesos (about US$300,000). Another 13 million pesos would also be granted in assistance, the government said Tuesday.
“Argentina was the first country of Latin America to approve Sputnik V and begin using it to vaccinate the population,” said Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the RDIF. “Today we are delighted to announce that Argentina has become the first country of the region to launch the production of Sputnik V thanks to partnership between RDIF and Laboratorios Richmond.”
Russia registered Sputnik V last August ahead of large-scale clinical trials, prompting concern among experts over the fast-track process.
But later reviews have been largely positive, with the medical journal The Lancet publishing results showing it to be safe and more than 90 percent effective.