The Chinese coup is dominating vaccination campaigns in Latin America, the region worst hit by the coronavirus, in a victory for Beijing which relies on its supplies of ventilators and protective gear from “mask diplomacy” last year.
As Latin America battles a deadly third wave of the pandemic, China has shipped more than half of the 143.5 million doses of vaccine delivered to the region’s 10 most populous countries, according to Financial Times analysis data provided by governments.
Chinese companies, led by Beijing-based Sinovac, have so far delivered 75.8 million finished doses or key ingredients for doses to those 10 countries. The two main Western Latin American suppliers, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, delivered 59 million doses between them, with some doses of AZ being supplied through the World Health Organization’s Covax facility.
Russia, despite considerable diplomatic noise around its vaccination efforts, provided only 8.7 million doses of its sputnik, mostly to Argentina.
U.S. manufacturers have signed agreements to supply vaccines to Latin American countries in the future, but the only significant shipments to date to the 10 largest countries in the region by a U.S. manufacturer are those from Pfizer, which provided 19.5 million doses, according to data.
“There are more Chinese gunfire in Latin America and other developing countries,” said Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics. “This reflects trends in global health, where we are seeing an increasing dominance of China as a health power.”
Chinese dominance would likely be even greater without the recent slowdown in shipments to Brazil, the region’s biggest vaccine buyer. This follows negative comments about Beijing from President Jair Bolsonaro and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, raising suspicion that China was punishing them for their comments.
The Butantan Institute, which fills and completes China’s CoronaVac vaccine in Brazil, said stocks could run out as early as next week due to a shortage of essential ingredients from China. “Our feeling is that there are difficulties, a bureaucracy that is slower than usual with very low volume authorizations,” said its manager Dimas Covas.
Bolsonaro said last week that “no one knows if [coronavirus] was born in a laboratory or by a human being [who] ingested an inappropriate animal. But it is there. The military knows what chemical, bacteriological and radiological warfare is. Are we not facing a new war? Which country has increased its GDP the most? “
Latin American officials have called on the United States, the region’s traditional powerhouse, to do more to help. In March, President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic called on President Joe Biden to release US stocks of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“President @JoeBiden, less developed countries and traditional allies of the United States like the Dominican Republic have approved the AstraZeneca vaccine and we urgently need it,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Paraguayan foreign minister, who is struggling to access Chinese gunfire because he maintains full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, implored the United States in late March to come to the rescue as the number of Covid cases -19 was increasing. “What good is the brotherhood if now they don’t give us an answer?” Euclid Acevedo asked.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, told an Americas Society conference this week that Washington has shared 4 million doses of the vaccine with Canada and Mexico and will share an additional 60 million doses of its supply to over the next two months, without however saying with which countries. He highlighted the US $ 2 billion contribution to the Covax facility, which has so far delivered 6.5 million doses to Latin America and its pledge of an additional US $ 2 billion.
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But the U.S. vaccine-sharing offer and Covax deliveries are overshadowed by the huge demand for vaccines among the 650 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The three most populous countries in Latin America – Brazil, Mexico and Colombia – are among the countries most affected in the world by the latest outbreak of the virus.
Wealthier citizens are flocking north on flights to the United States to get vaccinated in cities like Miami while the poor wait for shots at government programs hampered by a shortage of supplies. Vaccination rates in Latin America have been lower than those in the United States and Europe, with the notable exception of Chile.
Money is not the problem – Latin American governments can afford to buy the vaccines they need. But they have been at a disadvantage compared to the United States and Europe because most of the region’s capacity to make vaccines from scratch has been shut down in recent decades and moved to cheaper Asian sites. It must also rely on limited imports of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Brazil, Mexico and Argentina all have projects underway to rebuild national capacities for vaccine manufacturing or finishing.
“China has long sought to improve its game of soft diplomacy across the region and Covid has given it the opportunity to be seen in a positive light at a time of great need,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council. . “The United States has an opportunity to overtake China and gain a foothold. . . but he must send doses to Latin America as soon as possible. “
The US State Department said the Biden administration is working on plans to share AstraZeneca vaccine doses when available. “There are no doses of AstraZeneca to share at this time,” he said.