Central, South American Countries Embracing Russia’s Coronavirus Vaccine

Argentine Presidency via Reuters
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez gets vaccinated with the Sputnik V shot in Buenos Aires on Jan. 21.

RIO DE JANEIRO — The Russian novel coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V is increasingly the go-to choice for many Central and South American countries.

Despite concerns raised about the vaccine’s safety, countries have been procuring Sputnik V as shots from U.S. and European drugmakers have been in short supply. Many of the Central and South American countries also have political ties with Russia.

The Argentine government since December last year has received 600,000 Sputnik V doses and has vaccinated mainly medical workers.

On Jan. 20, the Argentine government approved shots of the vaccine for people age 60 or older, and President Alberto Fernandez got jabbed.

“Let’s all get vaccinated,” the 61-year-old president told the public.

The Russian government approved Sputnik V in August last year while development was still in the final stage of clinical tests. Approving a shot before development is complete is a risky move, which has led to lingering doubts about Sputnik V’s safety.

The online edition of The Wall Street Journal voiced such concern when it wrote that “Argentina is a testing ground” for Russia.

Yet, the Argentine government hurriedly introduced the Russian vaccine because, according to Britain’s Economist magazine, political factors were seen as being important.

Vice President Cristina Fernandez, who led Argentina’s procurement drive, has anti-U.S. stances. She once also expressed understanding for Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

According to media reports in the region, Venezuela and Bolivia approved the Sputnik V vaccine and Nicaragua is currently negotiating with Russia for doses.

The countries have leftist leaders who keep their distance from the United States, and Russia has supported these leaders’ administrations.

Mexico, which is also led by a leftist administration, is planning to roll out its vaccination program using the Russian-made shot.

In contrast, Brazil, under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, rejected an application for approval of Sputnik V on Jan. 16.

Widespread use of Sputnik V is largely based on its having a lower price than vaccines produced by Western countries. It is also easier to procure.

Argentina has signed a contract with Britain’s AstraZeneca PLC for supplies and is also participating in the COVAX campaign, an international framework led by the World Health Organization for countries to jointly purchase novel coronavirus vaccines. However, Argentina so far has been unable to procure vaccines made by Western countries.

Paraguay, which has lukewarm relations with Russia, approved Jan. 15 emergency use of Sputnik V in part because of global vaccine procurement difficulties.

“It’s proof of the fact that interest in the safe and effective Russian-made vaccine has been spreading in Central and South America,” said the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is involved in Sputnik V’s development.