According to estimates made by the consultancy Airfinity, by the end of 2021 Argentina could position itself as the eighth world producer of vaccines. According to the latest report prepared by the company specializing in the analysis of science and health data, projections indicate that the country would share this ranking with nations that are already at the top of production such as China, the United States, India, the United Kingdom and Russia. From the region, but a little lower in the positions, Brazil and Cuba would also be located.
Although the Ministry of Health avoids making too daring projections – in fact, for some time now, they do not usually advance the number of doses that arrive until the planes land in Ezeiza -, authorized voices from the portfolio assure that the prospective exercise carried out by a consultancy such as Airfinity could be quite adjusted in the medium term. In this sense, Sonia Tarragona, Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Health of the Nation, states: “It is not unreasonable to think that our country by the end of the year and in 2022 will be able to consolidate itself as a strategic producer of vaccines against Covid in the region. By December, as we plan, not only will the entire population be immunized but we will also aim to become one of the first exporting nations in Latin America”.
“At the end of this year, there are consulting firms that announce that world vaccine production would be multiplying by six and that the world would access the levels necessary to achieve global immunity. Beyond achieving that tremendous goal, the fact of approaching would already represent very good news, “he says. Bernabé Malacalza, Doctor in Social Sciences (FLACSO), professor at the National University of Quilmes and Researcher at Conicet. To the date, the world’s laboratories produced 1.73 billion vaccines, and according to projections made by Airfinity, by December 31 – in an ideal situation – that figure could increase to 11 billion.
“This type of report usually takes into account the increase in production capacities, the number of active plants, the possibility of increasing the production that these plants have and those that are not working but will do so shortly”, warns the specialist in international relations. Then he completes: “Although these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, insofar as they foresee an idyllic situation, they partly represent a symptom of what we are seeing in the present. By 2022 our country will undoubtedly be a world producer of anti-Covid vaccines”.
Another axis on which the study focuses is that a good part of this jump in production will be driven by private laboratories located in low- and middle-income countries. From this perspective, Malacalza details it: “Between 80% and 90% of the acceleration in manufacturing into next year will be driven by companies located in low- and middle-income nations. I mean India but also Argentina. The good thing would be that the producing countries are also the ones that immunize their populations the fastest ”.
The value chain linked to production routines is multi-country. What does it mean? That no matter how much one nation is the one that is finally identified with the developed technology, there are always several that contribute their own. This happens in this way because science and technology worldwide also participate in the globalization process that has polished capitalism during the last decades. The slogan “Capitalism has no flag”, in 2021, seems to fill with meaning.
Argentina as a lighthouse in the region
MaBxience, the laboratory whose plant is located in Garín (Buenos Aires) and belongs to the businessman Hugo Sigman, has already produced the active substance for the packaging and distribution of, approximately, 60 million doses of technology developed by the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca. If everything goes as before, by the end of June they could send 30 million more. The first batches have already been distributed from Mexico and the United States to the region with the exception of Brazil. By early 2022 it could reach the initial target, that is, between 150 to 250 million. The Laboratorio Richmond, led by Marcelo Figueiras, would initially be in a position to participate in the last link in the production chain and manufacture some 500 thousand doses per week, that is, about two million per month of Sputnik V. However, after the first months in which the process tends to take time and the procedures are oiled, could reach 5 million monthly doses.
Next year, however, the highlight will come when a model plant is launched that will allow the manufacture of no less than 500 million doses per year. “During the first stage, Richmond will be in charge of the packaging of the substance sent by Moscow. However, the objective is that in the medium term, starting with the commissioning of a new plant, it can also take over the production of the formula and thus complete the entire production circuit in the country ”, says Tarragona.
On the other hand, it must be taken into account that the negotiations are well advanced so that Argentina also produces the Sinopharm vaccine in the Sinergium laboratory, one of the largest in the continent. From this point of view, Tarragona expresses: “There are many projects that are well advanced. Not only will Richmond produce Sputnik V, but Sinopharm’s agreement for Sinergium to manufacture it locally and what mAbxience has already been doing with AstraZeneca is well under way. There are also local projects that are not closed but that in a few months could work very well ”. With this, the economist refers to the vaccines developed by the National University of San Martín (baptized “Arvac Cecilia Grierson”), the National University of La Plata and, finally, the one that the Leloir Institute, the Conicet and the biotech company Vaxinz.
Then, it continues with the detail of the agreement with China. “Sinopharm’s agreement with Sinergium is not yet closed but is well advanced. Also, once production is in, it can be scaled up very quickly. The experience is tremendous, since It is the most important factory in South America and he has a lot of experience doing this kind of thing. In fact, the groups of specialists from Sinergium were participating in the clinical trial that Sinopharm carried out in the country ”, he emphasizes.
Sinopharm, like so many other companies (Pfizer, CanSino, Janssen, Medicago, Bayer and BriLife), conducted its phase III clinical trials in Argentina. In this case, the tests were carried out through the Fundación Huitado led by Pedro Cahn and the Vacunar centers. “Today it is in a contract negotiation stage, but in a very short time we will be giving the news of the beginning of the production at the local level of this vaccine as well”, Announces the official. Something similar happens with Cuban technologies (Abdala and Sovereign II), but to start producing them there is still a long way to go.
“We go to a world of permanent pandemics, you have to be prepared. It is not only probable, but it is very possible to have new events of a similar scale in which the country’s resilience is put into play ”, describes Malacalza. “Producing vaccines and exporting them will allow Argentina to play this role of ‘good international citizen’ and enhance your reputation. The nation is showing signs of being in a position to share talent and knowledge with other countries in the region. We have a lot to offer, ”he says.
The success with Russia, the game of the United States
“The country anticipated very well what later became a success and consecration such as the Sputnik V vaccine. It was among the first to request it and approve it for use; and this benefited him both to receive the first doses and to become a link in the production chain of the vaccine itself, which will soon be manufactured domestically by Richmond Laboratories ”, says Malacalza. “Argentina, at some time, based on its installed capacities, could be on a par with the production carried out by Russia, for example. The Eurasian giant, at present, is one of those that produces the least; for this reason, Moscow aims for deconcentration of production in different nodes ”, he observes.
Under this premise, the Conicet researcher refers to the development of Sputnik V in emerging countries with technological potential and specifically selected by Putin. Except for China, Germany, and South Korea, Sputnik V is produced at scale in nations such as India, Egypt, Italy, Brazil, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. On Thursday, along these lines, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a new vaccine production plant in Bahrain to manufacture and distribute its technology.
Until the beginning of May, according to the Axios consultant, China (415 million), the European Union (400 million), the US (323 million), India (196 million), Russia (67 million) and the United Kingdom (23 million) led the list of producing countries. An interesting fact to take into account in order to understand the geopolitical profile in relation to vaccines lies in analyzing how much of what they manufactured they destined for the domestic market and how much they exported. China and the European Union each exported 200 million, the United States 2.5 million, India 66 million, Russia 11.5 million and the United Kingdom 0.7 million. The tabs on the diplomatic relations map are rearranged, more so if one takes into account that In addition to China and Russia, which have already played strong towards the end of 2020 and during the first half of 2021, currently the United States is joining.
Although until just a few weeks ago the government of Joe Biden had only sent a few items to its northern neighbors (Mexico and Canada), this week the White House reported that, through the Covax mechanism of the WHO, will distribute 80 million doses, which it does not use for its immunization process and are mainly intended for Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The first installment will be 25 million, of which six will be destined for the region. “The United States has already started playing with the shipment of AstraZeneca doses to Canada and Mexico. Biden is planning to ship lots to Central America, the backyard, and has a very significant spare part from Johnson & Johnson that they will put to play as well. The rate of his vaccination advances to 10% per month, with which, he hopes to reach herd immunity by July 4 and proclaim that date as ‘Covid’s independence day,’ ”says Malacalza.
Vaccines have become a resource as strategic as it is coveted. The bottleneck in production seems to have been unlocked and, as the months go by, the utopias are embodied and take on some form. In this framework, Argentina, through the efforts of its government and, above all, thanks to the installed capacities and excellent human resources, could play an interesting role.