Ecuador's largest city seeks direct purchase of COVID-19 vaccines

QUITO, March 3 (Reuters) - Authorities in Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil said on Wednesday they will negotiate the direct purchase of three coronavirus vaccines to speed up the immunization process given the slow progress of the national government’s rollout since January.

Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri said the goal was to vaccinate one million of over 2.6 million people in the city, which last year faced one of the worst outbreaks in the region. But the purchase requires formal authorization from President Lenin Moreno’s government, which has yet to comment.

Mayors across the country, including the capital Quito, have also asked Moreno to authorize direct vaccine purchases.

“We are going to buy the UK AstraZeneca first, the Russian vaccine (Sputnik V) second and the Chinese vaccine third (Sinovac),” Viteri told reporters at a public event.

“The negotiation of the vaccine will be directly between local government and the supplier company abroad, without any intermediary,” she added. Guayaquil has a budget of $15 million for the purchase, she said.

The government rolled out a pilot plan, intending to give doses of the Pfizer vaccine to medical personnel and elderly residents in nursing homes. The process has been criticized because those outside of beneficiary groups have received the vaccine.

So far Ecuador has received some 40,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The Health Ministry said in a statement that it expected the arrival of 31,500 more Pfizer doses on Wednesday.

Mass vaccination was scheduled to start in March.

Ecuador’s national government said that it negotiated 20 million doses of vaccines with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, the COVAX initiative of the World Health Organization and Sinovac in an attempt to inoculate 60% of the population over 18 years of age for free.

The Andean nation has reported about 290,000 infections and more than 11,100 deaths from the coronavirus. (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; editing by Grant McCool)