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How the Russian Sputnik V vaccine spreads across Latin America

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Eduardo Valdes, a former diplomat and member of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition, who now serves as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies, says there is a clear line between vaccine negotiations and external factors.

“Now is not the time to make ideologies. Our goal is for the Western Hemisphere to get its vaccines and not get into someone else’s home affairs,” he told CNN.

Although historically seen as Washington’s geopolitical “backyard,” Latin America is increasingly turning to Moscow for help in tackling the pandemic. Six countries across the region – Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Venezuela – have now authorized the use of the Sputnik V vaccine. Others are considering authorization requests, increasingly urgent given the global shortage of available vaccines.

The case of Colombia is an example: America’s closest regional ally, Bogot, is now ready to authorize Sputnik V as well – a decision that surprised many because of the close alignment between some sectors of the ruling coalition and the US Republican Party. In the past, members of Duque’s right-wing party, Centro Democrtico, have openly criticized Putin’s involvement in Latin America.

But when the country found itself without vaccines on hand in late January, Duque seems to have decided to push the ideology aside. A day after the launch of The Lancet on Sputnik V, Announced Colombia was entering into negotiations with Russia.
Less than three months ago, Bogot had DISPLACED two Russian officials in unclear circumstances. But the deportation “did not affect the negotiations to bring the vaccine here,” Leonid Sboiko, first secretary at the Russian Embassy in Bogot., Told CNN. The Colombian Ministry of Health declined to comment on the status of the negotiations.

If anything, the vaccine deal can be a step towards mitigating things. “Both countries want to turn the page. It was unfortunate, but we want to move forward,” Sboiko said, adding, “Vaccine co-operation is the most pressing issue right now and will have a positive impact. [Colombia and Russia’s] bilateral relations “.

Sboiko told CNN that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which deals with the commercialization of Sputnik V, last week submitted an emergency authorization request to Colombian medical agency INVIMA and it is ready to deliver 100,000 doses within 14 days after a purchase.

“I think they had to bite the bullet and buy the vaccine, no matter who bought it. And the Russians acted with great pragmatism,” Juan Carlos Ruiz, a professor of foreign relations at Bogot’s Universidad del Rosario, told CNN.

Colombia will start vaccinations this week, after receiving 50,000 doses as the first shipment from Pfizer.

Ease of doing business

The need to provide more vaccines is urgently felt in the region. Latin American countries have been among the world most affected by the pandemic, but large-scale vaccination campaigns have not yet begun, with limited exceptions.

According to the University of Oxford, South American countries have distributed on average less than two doses of each coronavirus vaccine per 100 people, compared to almost five doses per 100 people in the EU and over 14 doses per 100 people in the US

Russia’s readiness to reach an agreement has been crucial in spreading the vaccine to Latin America so far, according to Danil Bochkov, an international relations expert at the Russian Council on International Affairs.

“It ‘s always easier to deal with the state than with a private company, which has to protect potential risks from fear of big losses. State – owned companies are easier to negotiate, especially when they’re pursuing political goals.” “Bochkov told CNN.

Valdes, the Argentine lawmaker, says negotiations with Moscow were easier than with Pfizer, from whom the Argentine government originally planned to purchase the vaccine. “When we saw the contract, we assessed that those with Pfizer did not comply with the legal protocols we were expecting,” Valdes said. “We reached out to the Russians and [Argentinian] “President Fernandez was in direct contact with Putin and that accelerated things,” he told CNN.

Argentina has so far bought up to 25 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine and distributed over 600,000 doses. Meanwhile, it is still awaiting distribution the first Pfizer vaccine.

In a statement to CNN, Pfizer said the company remains determined to work with the Argentine government but declined to comment on the status of the confidential negotiations.

Regional neighbors Peru and Brazil also have cited issues in the negotiations with Pfizer, ostensibly because of some of the liability clauses he sought, and ultimately turned to other vaccines produced in China Sinopharm in Peru and Coronavac and AstraZeneca in Brazil.
Airport workers unload transport containers of doses of Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 at Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport on February 12, 2021.

In addition to the ease of negotiations, two other factors have worked to take advantage of Sputnik V spreading across Latin America, according to analysts and lawmakers involved in vaccine purchases in Argentina and Bolivia: Sputnik V is cheap and relatively easy to maintain .

Even before the start of negotiations, RDIF ranks the price of Sputnik V with roughly $ 10 for doses approximately half the price of the $ 19.50 Pfizer vaccine per dose. Latin American economies have been hit hard by the pandemic, and any potential austerity is more than welcome by administrators and politicians.
Russian vaccine can also be saved at a temperature of 2 to 8C (35 to 45F) and does not require the ultra-freezing temperature at which the Pfizer vaccine is stored. Most Latin America lacks the infrastructure to maintain ultra-freezing temperatures, especially in rural areas with limited road access.

Other privately made vaccines, such as those made by AstraZeneca and Moderna, will not yet arrive in large quantities in Latin America, while countries like Brazil, Chile and Mexico have invested in Chinese-made vaccines.

Around the world, 26 seats have approved the Sputnik V vaccine

What Russia needs to win

Former diplomats and analysts in Buenos Aires, Bogota and La Paz say Russian President Vladimir Putin can now reap the benefits of the vaccine spread, using it as a global business card to start new and more forgiving relationships.

According to Andres Serbin, President of the Regional Coordinator of Social and Economic Research (QANE), a foreign policy think tank in Buenos Aires, Russia’s interests in Latin America are both political, to rival US hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, and expanding trading markets for Russian-owned companies . The sale of the vaccine serves both of these purposes.

“Russia made a big bet on the vaccine: in recent years, Russia has rediscovered Latin America, not for ideology but because if your goal is to question the norms and values ​​of the international liberal order, Latin America is a particularly sensitive to this goal, “said Serbin.

Both Russia and China are seeking to improve their reputation after years of confrontation with the US and the EU, and the role of vaccine provider for the developing world is a perfect opportunity for a positive PR campaign. As Bochkov puts it, “Russia has so far possessed Sputnik V as a diplomatic instrument.”

Commercially, the sale of millions of doses of vaccines also means the return of millions of dollars in profits, something of paramount importance to the Russian economy, which has been hit by Western sanctions in recent times.

In contrast, treating the distribution of vaccines from the West has often seemed internal. In January, Britain and the EU arguing on the distribution of vaccines, while the White House wholesale purchases of vaccines in a total of more than 7 possible doses available to every American, according to the data collected by Duke University.

“The difference is that the United States is working to get vaccines primarily to vaccinate American citizens. Others like Russia and China are looking to extend relations where they can,” Pablo Solon, a former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN. .

A missed opportunity for the West?

Western powers could have seized political and even moral advantage, says Amadeo Gandolfo, an Argentine researcher in political communication at Humboldt University in Berlin. He argues that Western countries missed a key opportunity to claim a moral victory when they allowed companies to patent their vaccines.

“Faced with the absolute urgency for the whole world to get the vaccine, leaving it in the hands of pharmaceutical companies and not allowing a liberalization of the formula, I think it’s something that pushed some sectors of Latin America away,” he told CNN.

Now, as with any new patented product, privately developed vaccines are protected by property rights and cannot be copied by other companies or countries. So while private companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca are trying to meet completed orders, other labs cannot intervene to produce the same vaccines and increase supplies.

Many Western countries have instead invested in the Covax mechanism, a framework promoted by the World Health Organization to purchase bulk vaccines and secure deliveries to developing countries that cannot afford to buy them themselves.

But while Covax promises to inoculate up to 20% of the developing world and says it will prioritize four Latin American countries including Bolivia and Colombia for early access, it has yet to deliver a single dose.

Whether vaccination efforts would be more equitable if Western pharmaceutical companies were not allowed to patent and commercialize vaccines, it is discussed since the beginning of the pandemic. An attempt by South Africa and India to ask the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property rights in relation to Covid-19 has so far proved Unsuccessful.

This will cost Western governments a lot in post-pandemic geopolitics, argues Solon, the Bolivian diplomat. “The world has been multipolar for some time,” he told CNN. “But within this multipolar world, Russia and China are advancing rapidly. This vaccine situation is only strengthening the trend.”



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