LatAm Steps Up Covid-19 Vaccine Production

Sinovac’s announcement that it will install a laboratory in Ecuador will add to the region’s vaccine production, in which eight countries are now engaged

Glass vials of Covid-19 vaccine on the production line. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
February 16, 2022 | 02:20 PM

Bloomberg Línea — To many countries, the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of being self-sufficient when responding to a health emergency, and one of the aspects that most reinforced that was and is the lack of equity of access to vaccines to combat the virus.

Figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that, to January 2022, three-quarters of the antiviral vaccines produced in the world had been delivered to high- and middle-income countries, and, in addition, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recently stated that “although 63% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean has already been vaccinated against Covid-19, coverage remains unequal, with 14 countries and territories that have not yet immunized 40% of their populations”.

It was precisely this inequality that triggered the efforts in Latin America to produce vaccines locally.

Glass vials of Covid-19 vaccine on the production line. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

First Steps

In 2021, three countries in the region made their own arrangements to produce or be part of the production chain of vaccines already in production in other countries.


The first to take the lead was Argentina, which in April of that year, through pharmaceutical company Richmond, struck up an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to produce the Sputnik V vaccine. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the mAbxience laboratory would manufacture the active ingredient of the vaccine for Oxford Lane Capital Corp. (OXLC) and AstraZeneca PLC-Spons ADR (AZN).

Read More: Brazil Surpasses the U.S. in Covid Vaccination Rate

Mexico was also involved, announcing at the time that it would take charge, together with the Liomont laboratory, of the packaging process for AstraZeneca vaccines produced by Argentina. Then, in mid-2021, Mexican state-owned laboratory Birmex also announced that it would participate in the packaging process for the Russian vaccine.


The third country to get involved was Brazil, which in early 2021 also began the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, led by the Butantan Institute and the plants of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, to produce the Sinovac Biotech LTD (SVA) and AstraZeneca vaccines, respectively.

These actions led the three countries to have a certain autonomy in the administration of vaccine doses to their population, enabling them to battle the pandemic, while receiving vaccines from other laboratories through payments and negotiations made by their governments, as well as vaccines supplied by the WHO Covax mechanism for equity in the manufacture and acquisition of vaccines, with which, to February of this year, totaled 100 million doses delivered in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Also Read: Covid Tests in LatAm: Demand Outstrips Supply Amid Poor Planning, Omicron Surge

Técnicos de laboratorio trabajan en el área donde se prepara el ingrediente farmacéutico activo (API) para la producción de la vacuna AstraZeneca Covid-19 en un laboratorio de Fiocruz en Río de Janeiro, Brasil, el jueves 27 de mayo de 2021. Un total de 64 millones En Brasil ya se administraron dosis de vacuna contra el covid, con una tasa promedio estimada en 659.189 dosis por día. Fotógrafo: María Magdalena Arrellaga/Bloomberg

Read More: ‘Our Vaccine is an Important Tool Against Omicron’, Moderna Says


New Players

And the region’s efforts to achieve greater sanitary autonomy are continuing.

The most recent announcement was made by Ecuador, which this week confirmed that Chinese laboratory Sinovac will establish a vaccine factory in the country, and which is slated to begin operations within two years.

The Ministry of Health stated that, after a meeting between authorities of both countries, they agreed “to carry out economic, technical and scientific validation studies to determine where the plant will be located”, and which will define the structuring of a contract for the operation and construction of the vaccine plant.


And that move mirrors those made by other countries in the region, aiming to provide a future guarantee of vaccine supplies, even if it is an ambitious and costly process:

  • Brazil: in the first half of 2021, the country announced the bidding process for a Biotechnology Industrial Health Complex, promising that it will be the laboratory with the largest vaccine manufacturing capacity in Latin America, with an initial investment of more than $620 million.
  • Chile: last August, the country confirmed the installation of two vaccine manufacturing plants in Chile by Chinese laboratory Sinovac, which is investing $60 million and seeking to produce 50 million doses per year. The plants would start operating this year, and could also produce drugs against influenza and hepatitis B.
  • Colombia: earlier this month, work began on the VaxThera plant, which is expected to begin operations in 2023, and which will be responsible for filling vials with vaccines and completing the process of packaging the medicine for distribution, research, development, production and marketing of vaccines and strategic drugs. Part of the Sura Group, the plant has begun working on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine called Univax.
  • Cuba: last November, Cuba opened the CIGB-Mariel Biotechnology Industrial Complex, which seeks not only to respond to the Covid-19 situation, but also to provide treatments for cancer, diabetes, autoimmune and infectious diseases. The plant will dedicate much of its capacity to producing the Abdala vaccine, but also plans to increase capacity and work on the Soberana series of vaccines.
  • Perú: in September 2021, President Pedro Castillo announced the installation of a Russian Sputnik V vaccine production plant in the country, and that will begin operations in 2023.

Read More: Pfizer Opens up Details on the Future Distribution of Its Anticovid Pill in LatAm

Local Efforts

And in addition to the production of vaccines by international pharmaceutical companies, Latin American countries also have multiple projects under way for the development of their own vaccines, with the most advanced progress taking place in Mexico and Cuba, which have already presented results from different phases.

In Mexico, the Patria vaccine is a “safe pharmaceutical and it has immunogenic potential” after having completed the first phase of trials, the country’s science and culture council (Conacyt) and local pharmaceutical company Avimex said in mid-February. The second phase for testing the vaccine has been under way since December, and volunteers are now being sought to take part in the clinical trials.


Cuba, meanwhile, has produced three of its own vaccines, Abdala, Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus, for which the island’s government granted emergency approval in 2021, while approval by the WHO is being sought for the first quarter of this year.

On February 15, the WHO said there are currently 195 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical trial phase globally, and 143 varieties in clinical development.

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