Rich countries must increase COVID-19 vaccine supply to poor nations, Argentina, Mexico say

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The presidents of Mexico and Argentina on Tuesday pressed the United Nations and the world’s richest countries to improve poorer nations’ access to COVID-19 vaccines, deriding efforts as grossly inadequate so far.

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace, in Mexico City, Mexico February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the United Nations’ scheme to ensure the poorest could get vaccines was not working, arguing that 80% of supplies were concentrated in 10 countries, which was “totally unfair.”

“Where’s the universal brotherhood?,” he told a joint news conference with his Argentine counterpart, Alberto Fernandez, a fellow leftist who is visiting Mexico.

“The U.N. must intervene, because it looks like a flower vase, it’s a decoration,” Lopez Obrador said.

Fernandez backed his host’s words and noted that he and French President Emmanuel Macron were pressing to have vaccines declared a “global good” by the Group of 20 major economies to which Mexico and Argentina belong.

According to Oxford-based research group Our World In Data, Mexico has administered 1.3 vaccines per 100 of population, and Argentina 1.6. By contrast, Britain has done 27.0 and the United States 19.2. The world average is 2.7, the figures show.

Sharp inequalities in vaccine rollouts have led to criticism that all but the world’s richest countries will have to wait for months, if not years, for comprehensive access to the inoculations.

Lopez Obrador accused the wealthiest countries of “hoarding” vaccine supplies, and his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, has raised concerns over the issue at the U.N. Security Council.

Ebrard expressed frustration vaccines had not yet reached Mexico under the COVAX scheme backed by the U.N.’s World Health Organization meant to guarantee equitable access.

Both Mexico and Argentina have faced criticism over efforts to inoculate their populations and a joint project to make the AstraZeneca vaccine for Latin America has yet to yield results.

Lopez Obrador said the first AstraZeneca shots would be ready in early April. Previously, officials had said March.

Fernandez has been on the defensive over privileged vaccine access that people close to the government received, while in Mexico the rollout has been hampered by the failure of promised supplies to arrive.

Lopez Obrador has also taken flak for his resistance to wearing a face mask, and he was again barefaced when he clasped arms with the masked Fernandez as they met on Tuesday.

The two men warmly exchanged compliments with each other in the news conference, during which both attacked critical media.

Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Dave Graham and Cynthia Osterman