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Despite lack of data, Mexico bets heavily on Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines

Woman gets COVID-19 shot
A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Mexico City on Monday.
(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

Mexico announced a huge bet on Chinese COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday, without making public any information about their efficacy.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the Mexican government had signed agreements for 12 million doses of the yet-to-be-approved Sinopharm vaccine and increased to a total of 20 million doses its contracts for the Coronavac dose made by China’s Sinovac.

Deliveries from Sinovac have already started, with the full 20 million doses expected by July. The Sinopharm vaccines are to be delivered between March and June.

The total of 32 million doses, plus at least 4 million doses of the Chinese-developed CanSino shot, would dwarf the estimated 5 million vaccine doses Mexico has acquired so far from other sources.

However, Ebrard’s office has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the efficacy of the Chinese shots.

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Sinopharm has said its vaccine is 79% effective based on interim data from clinical trials, but like other Chinese firms, it has not publicly released its late-stage clinical trial data.

‘It feels like a horror film that never ends,’ says a healthcare worker in Mexico, where hospitals are overflowing and oxygen tanks for the ill are scarce.

Experts in Hong Kong have assessed the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine at about 51%. That shot has already been approved for use in Mexico.

The CanSino vaccine has been approved in Mexico and reportedly has an efficacy rate of around 66%.

A total of six vaccines have been approved for use in Mexico, which has received relatively small amounts of each. Mexico has administered only about 4.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a tiny number given the country’s population of 126 million.

The government’s policy sets up a situation in which some Mexicans, mainly in urban areas, will receive the Pfizer vaccine, which has around 95% efficacy, while most will get one of the much less efficacious Chinese vaccines. Mexico has contracts for a total of about 34 million doses of the Pfizer shot, but deliveries have been slow, with less than one-tenth delivered so far.

Seizing on COVID-19 to expand its global influence, China has emerged as a major player in the vaccine sweepstakes — particularly in Latin America.

Amid a dearth of public data on China’s vaccines, reservations over their efficacy and safety are still pervasive in the countries depending on them.

Inoculations with Chinese vaccines already have begun in more than 25 countries.

Mexico has suffered almost 190,100 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. However, the country does little testing and government excess-death figures suggest the real toll was well over 220,000 at the start of January, when the government stopped releasing that data. Confirmed infections total over 2.1 million.


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