Mexico expects U.S. response to AstraZeneca vaccine request on Friday

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The U.S. government is expected to respond by Friday to Mexico’s request to share doses of stockpiled AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, a senior Mexican official said Tuesday, as Canadian authorities also seek extra doses from their southern neighbor.

Airline employees unload a container with a batch of the AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, at the Benito Juarez International Airport, in Mexico City, Mexico March 16, 2021. Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Reuters reported this week that Mexico had asked for extra shipments of the British-developed vaccine, since it has yet to be approved for use in the United States.

“I’d say we’ve made good progress, but the details, figures, provisions, won’t be known until Friday,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters on Tuesday morning. “We requested as many (AstraZeneca doses) as possible.”

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked U.S. President Joe Biden for a vaccine “loan” during a virtual meeting on March 1, after Mexico’s vaccine strategy was knocked off course by slow deliveries from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE.

“We are hoping for the help, support and solidarity of the U.S. government,” Lopez Obrador told a regular news conference on Tuesday alongside Ebrard. He added that people in Mexico over 60 will be vaccinated by the end of April, a month later than previously planned.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the U.S. priority is to vaccinate Americans.

“If we have surplus vaccines from that effort we will look for ways to share them,” the person said, without addressing whether the U.S. government would respond to Mexico by Friday.

Asked if U.S. officials will reply by Friday and if they might be softening their stance on sharing doses, a U.S. Department of State spokesperson declined to answer but instead stressed ongoing collaboration.

“We have been working on vaccine clinical trials with science and public health experts in Mexico to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a promising COVID-19 vaccine(s),” the spokesperson said in a brief statement, adding that the U.S. would continue collaborating with Mexico on “all aspects” of pandemic response.

Biden on Tuesday said the United States is in talks with several countries about who could receive any extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’re talking with several countries already,” Biden told reporters when asked. “I’ll let you know that very shortly.”

Canadian Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada’s ambassador to the United States is in talks with the Biden administration over its supply of unused doses.

“On the subject of these additional AstraZeneca doses ... I am in close touch with Ambassador (Kirsten) Hillman, and we together are engaged with the U.S. administration on this very issue,” Anand told CTV on Sunday.

AstraZeneca is aware of the discussions over possible donations of its vaccines belonging to the U.S. government, a company spokesperson told Reuters.

“We’ve asked the U.S. government to give thoughtful consideration to these requests,” the spokesperson added.

The push by Mexico and Canada to obtain extra AstraZeneca doses comes as several countries, including Germany, Italy and France, have suspended vaccinating people with the product amid concerns over blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said there was no indication that the relatively tiny number of blood clot incidents in vaccinated people had been caused by the AstraZeneca shot, but that experts were assessing that possibility.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Raul Cortes Fernandez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Sharay Angulo in Mexico City and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Aurora Ellis, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman