BUENOS AIRES/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Argentina, racing to stop the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, said on Thursday it will offer second doses of Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines to citizens who received a first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V but could not receive a second jab due to delays in deliveries.
In Buenos Aires province alone, 180,000 Argentines are now beyond the mandated three months period between the first and second dose of Sputnik V but the government is still waiting for further stock of the unique second jab to arrive.
Health minister Carla Vizzotti told a news conference that “flexibilizing” the kind of vaccines administered would bolster Argentines’ chances against the more contagious Delta variant. First identified in the Latin American country in June, it has so far been detected in 89 cases.
“We are able to begin interchanging different vaccines starting, while we investigate further, with Sputnik V with Moderna and AstraZeneca,” Vizzotti said.
“As evidence published in the United Kingdom suggests, the combination of the AstraZeneca vaccine with the Moderna vaccine is another possibility to be able to flexibilize and accelerate the administration of second doses.”
Argentina was one of the first countries to widely use Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine and acted as liaison between the Russian authorities and health authorities in Mexico and Bolivia who signed deals to buy it too.
Last month, Argentina made public a letter it sent to the Russian state entity RDIF which is marketing Sputnik V, saying the country urgently needed second doses and threatening to pull the plug on the entire deal if they were not delivered.
“We understand the shortage and the production difficulties of a few months ago,” read the letter, signed by an Argentine presidency official. “But now, seven months later, we are still far behind, as we are starting to receive doses from other providers on a regular basis, with schedules that are met.”
On Thursday, RDIF’s Chief executive Kirill Dmitriev told Reuters that any delays will be ironed out by August and that countries combining Sputnik V with another drug had been the plan all along.
“We suggested it, we always wanted to do a combo,” he said. “Sputnik is the first combined vaccine, the first mix and match, which consists of two different shots. We have said from the beginning that two different shots work better than two identical ones.”
On Thursday, more than 1.5 million doses of Moderna began being rolled out as second jabs around the country, with people over 50 prioritized. Administration of second doses of the AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines to those who received a first dose of Sputnik in Buenos Aires will begin on Friday.
Moderna’s vaccine, like Pfizer-BioNTech’s, is based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, while Sputnik V uses two different adenovirus vectors in the first and second doses of its two-shot regimen.
The decision was taken to issue a combination of doses after preliminary results of a trial by Argentine scientists showed it was safe and offered similar immunity, the government said in a statement.
On Wednesday, RDIF said in a statement that delays in international deliveries of the second dose will be fully resolved this month.
On Tuesday, Argentina’s Richmond Laboratories said in a joint statement issued with RDIF that it would produce more than 3 million doses of the second component of the Sputnik V vaccine in August.
Argentina has issued a first dose to 57% of its 45 million-strong population but a second dose to just 17%.
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