Amid scramble for Covid-19 vaccine, Latin America turns to Russia

DANIEL RAMOS & AISLINN LAING –

As Bolivia struggled late last year to secure deals with large drug firms to supply Covid-19 vaccines, the incoming president, Luis Arce, turned to Russia for help.
By the end of December, Bolivia clinched its first major Covid-19 vaccine deal, with enough shots for some 20 per cent of the population. The first Sputnik V doses arrived in the country in late January, just as virus cases were spiking.
“It was a really marathon task,” said Bolivian trade minister Benjamin Blanco of the procurement quest, but Russia’s political will made it possible. Western vaccine makers “told us developing countries that we had to wait until June.”
Bolivia’s reliance on Moscow underscores how governments across the region have turned to Russia’s Sputnik V drug amid fears of being left behind in the global scramble for vaccines. As many wealthier developed nations have signed big deals with large drugmakers like Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca PLC , countries in Latin America have faced difficulties securing adequate vaccine supplies.
For Russia, acceptance in Latin America lends legitimacy to its vaccine, which faced initial scepticism. It also provides Moscow an opportunity to make in-roads in the
resource rich region at a time when Covid-19 vaccines are becoming a tool for soft power.
Latin America’s Russian gamble looks a stronger bet after scientists said it was almost 92 per cent effective in its first peer-reviewed study, published in early February in international journal the Lancet.
Current and former officials from three countries in the region, including Blanco, described to Reuters challenges in negotiating with multinational drugmakers. Officials from two of the countries described the comparative ease in dealing with Sputnik V’s marketeers, ranging from eagerness to engage to less onerous contractual terms, and in some instances a more attractive price.
But it’s not without risk. It’s unclear how effective Sputnik is against the new coronavirus variants, including one circulating widely in Brazil. And Russia has already experienced production delays domestically and overseas, including to Argentina, which in December became the first Latin country to sign a Sputnik V supply deal. — Reuters