Mexican minister visits Russia, vying to bring vaccine production home

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Mexico
Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks as a batch of the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine is unloaded after its arrival at Benito Juarez's international airport in Mexico City, Mexico February 14, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY, April 25 (Reuters) - Mexico's top diplomat traveled to Moscow on Sunday for a visit with Russian officials, his office said, amid talks to hammer out plans for Mexico to bottle Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine domestically after delays in shipments.

The government is aiming to quicken its pace of vaccinations, with just more than 4% of its population of 126 million people fully inoculated.

Mexico has registered 214,947 deaths, the fourth most worldwide, and 2,328,391 infections from the pandemic. The government has said the real number of cases is likely significantly higher.

Mexico's state-run vaccine manufacturer, Birmex, is working with Russia on a plan to bottle Sputnik V in Mexico, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said last week, just as Argentina produced test batches of the two-shot vaccine. read more

"Birmex is working jointly with Russian institutions so that Mexico can bottle the vaccine," Ebrard told Russian media outlets on Friday. "There is already significant progress."

Health ministry official Ruy Lopez told reporters on Sunday that the government's aim is to ramp up distribution of Sputnik V not only in Mexico, but also other parts of Latin America.

Russia has shipped 1.1 million Sputnik V doses to Mexico to date, far fewer doses than those originally slated to have arrived by now.

Mexico's Health Ministry said in late February it expected to receive 7.4 million doses of Sputnik V by April and an additional 16.6 million shots in May. Mexico has signed an agreement to acquire a total of 24 million doses.

Mexico is increasingly aiming to bottle vaccines domestically following delays from providers, and has already bottled 2.6 million shots of China's CanSino vaccine.

It also plans to bottle AstraZeneca (AZN.L) shots using vaccine material produced in Argentina. But the first doses are not expected until May due to delays at the Mexican production laboratory.

Ebrard's visit to Moscow will last through Wednesday and include a meeting with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

The minister will also visit China, India and the United States as part of his government's efforts to make sure that its supply agreements for vaccines against COVID-19 are honored.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Peter Cooney

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