Argentina prepares to roll out Sputnik Covid-19 vaccine

Buenos Aires, Dec 28 (efe-epa).- Argentina mobilized Monday to distribute 300,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to hospitals in each of the 34 provinces amid concerns about a second wave of infections in the South American country that has already lost nearly 43,000 lives to Covid-19.

The operation was on track “to initiate this great challenge that is the most important vaccination campaign in the history of Argentina,” Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzotti said.

Dr. Vizzotti, an infectious disease specialist, was part of the delegation that traveled to Russia to receiving a technical briefing and tour of the plants where the Sputnik V drug is produced.

She returned to Argentina on the plane carrying the vaccines.

With a commitment from the manufacturer to provide nearly 55 million doses of Sputnik V over the next eight months, Argentina can “work reaching the target population in a phased manner,” Vizzotti said.

President Alberto Fernandez and the provincial governors agreed that inoculations will begin nationwide at 9.00 am Tuesday.

The initial round of vaccinations will go to health-care workers in the major cities, where the incident of Covid-19 cases has been highest.

Lab technicians who handle test samples will also be among the first to get the shot.

The head of logistics in Vizzotti’s department, Juan Pablo Saulle, said that the delivery schedule was arranged to ensure the vaccines consignments reach their destinations Monday morning within a three-to-four-hour time window.

The government hired logistics firm Andreani to handle the transport of the vaccines from the capital’s Ezeiza International Airport to a facility in suburban Avellaneda and from there throughout the country.

The drug arrived in Argentina on freezer pallets capable of maintaining the vaccine at the required temperature of -20 C (-4 F) for 60 hours.

Andreani loaded the pallets onto refrigerated trucks for the short trip to the Avellaneda plant, where the company used more than 12,000 kg (26,400 lbs) of dry ice and 12,000 eutectic plates (cold accumulators) to store the vaccine during the process of making up the consignments for shipment across the country.

Given that the Russian vaccine, like the medications developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, requires two doses, Argentine health officials estimate that the secured supply of Sputnik V will be enough to inoculate more than 23 million of the country’s 45 million inhabitants.

Argentina has signed a contract to acquire the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, expected to be approved by the end of March, and is a party to the UN-sponsored COVAX initiative that aims to ensure the distribution of 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

“The idea is to have the largest number of at-risk people vaccinated when autumn arrives,” Fernandez said, referring to the start of fall in the Southern Hemisphere in late March.

Argentina has registered 1.58 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the virus was first detected here in March 2020.

Though the pace of new infections has slowed considerably, from a peak of 18,326 on Oct. 21 to 5,030 in the last 24 hours, authorities in some locations are sounding the alarm about what appear to be sustained increases in cases.

On Dec. 18, Fernandez announced an extension of the pandemic measures implemented March 20 until at least the end of January and requirements for masks and social distancing remain in effect for most jurisdictions in Argentina. EFE vd/dr

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