Russia to supply Mexico with 24 million COVID-19 vaccines, president says

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Russia will supply Mexico with 24 million doses of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine over the next two months, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said after a phone call on Monday with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

FILE PHOTO: A medic of the regional hospital receives Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine shot against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tver, Russia October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo

Putin’s pledge marks a sharp increase from a previous target from last week of 7.4 million doses through March, though some doubts over Russia’s production capacity persist.

Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has developed goodwill in Latin America after other pharmaceutical companies including U.S.-based Pfizer Inc announced shortfalls in distribution plans.

Lopez Obrador held the call with Putin despite announcing on Sunday that he was himself infected with COVID-19 and was being treated for mild symptoms.

The Mexican leader added in a post on Twitter that he had invited the Russian head of state to visit Mexico.

Lopez Obrador and Putin also discussed training for Mexican medical specialists in Russia, according to a news release from the Russian government.

Mexico has warned about a lack of doctors to accommodate the country’s high infection rate throughout the pandemic, particularly medical specialists. The country has among the lowest number of medical personnel relative to population among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the government has said.

During the first three months of this year, tens of millions of doses are expected in Mexico from the Gamaleya Center, Sputnik V’s developer, as well as China’s CanSino Biologics Inc, Britain’s AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

But with Monday’s announcement, Sputnik V would be by far Mexico’s most-used vaccine over that time, in part because Pfizer cut back on what it had originally committed to Mexico.

Mexico’s health regulator has not yet approved Sputnik V, despite promising a quick process after a senior health official received clinical data during a visit to Argentina.

Argentina has spearheaded Sputnik V’s arrival in Latin America, adopting the vaccine early and administering hundreds of thousands of doses since late last year.

Global vaccine bottlenecks have been exacerbated by many wealthier nations refusal to participate in COVAX, a global vaccine program co-led by the World Health Organization.

The global body seeks to deliver at least 2 billion COVID-19 doses worldwide this year, with at least 1.3 billion for poorer countries.

But it has so far struggled to secure enough shots due to a shortage of funds, while richer countries have booked large volumes of vaccines for themselves.

Reporting by Diego Oré and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell