Why Some Mexicans Are Apprehensive About Russia's Sputnik V Vaccine

By Steve Goldstein, Rodrigo Cervantes
Published: Thursday, February 4, 2021 - 12:53pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: This week, the respected English scientific magazine the Lancet published that Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is 92% effective in protecting people. The news was taken as an important step forward to legitimize the vaccine, which has faced criticisms for alleged lack of transparency and not enough tests. While the European Union and the United States have secured hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses from private companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca, other less wealthy countries, including India, Argentina and Mexico, are reserving billions of Sputnik V vaccines. And to talk more about how Sputnik V is perceived in Mexico, one of the countries that plans to provide this vaccine soon, we're joined now by KJZZ's Rodrigo Cervantes at our Mexico City bureau. Rodrigo, good morning.

RODRIGO CERVANTES: Good morning, Steve.

GOLDSTEIN: So lay this out for us. What is the COVID-19 vaccine situation in Mexico right now?

CERVANTES: Well, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised free-for-all vaccines for everyone this year. It's following a similar escalated program that in many states in the U.S. is favoring health workers and the [elderly] as the first recipients. The Mexican government has been purchasing vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and has also ensured acquisitions from the Chinese lab, CanSino. The president is currently quarantined after getting the virus more than a week ago, but that didn't stop him to call Russian President Vladimir Putin and ensure some Sputnik V vaccines for Mexico.

GOLDSTEIN: So, OK, are Sputnik V vaccines already available in Mexico?

CERVANTES: Not yet. The president says his government will purchase 24 million doses of Sputnik V and Mexico's Federal Commission Against Health Risks, which is some sort of the Mexican equivalent of the [Food and Drug Administration] (FDA) or the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] (CDC), has just approved it. Some Mexican states have also shown interest in purchasing vaccine support from the federal government's deals. That includes Sonora, which is also analyzing the possibility of acquiring Sputnik V doses, like my colleague Murphy Woodhouse from the Hermosillo bureau has been reporting.

GOLDSTEIN: Indeed. What is the general public's reaction at this point in Mexico to what they're hearing about Sputnik V?

CERVANTES: Well, the opinions are divided among those who consider that the vaccine is ready to use and the purchase is necessary and those who are either skeptical of its quality or the reasons for the Mexican government to purchase it. Take, for example, Sonora Sen. Lilly Téllez. She accused the federal government of purchasing Sputnik V without more international certification because it's cheap. But the Russian embassy in Mexico actually replied to the accusations, arguing that the vaccine has been tested following international protocols and has already been purchased by over 50 countries. Also, the embassy said that there's nothing wrong with being the cheapest vaccine on the market, right?

GOLDSTEIN: All right. So there is still some skepticism, but is there an overall problem with the vaccine that people are concerned about?

CERVANTES: Well, like I said, unfortunately, the vaccine has been politicized since the beginning. And this is not only in Mexico. Think about this as a new scientific race like those we saw in the Cold War era. But this is brought by the pandemic and it's also been brought by the political tensions that exist between Russia and the United States and the European Union. This has been seriously affected by the Putin administration. The vaccine research has been funded by the Russian government and has faced questioning for alleged opacity, the early stages of the testing by some other Western countries. However, recent evaluations, such as the one that was posed by the Lancet, which is very prestigious, are giving legitimacy to it, although the European and American regulatory institutions haven't approved it yet. So while many think that Mexico might be falling into some sort of old school, Cold War game with Russia, probably the real reason might be because Sputnik V is low cost and also because the wealthiest countries, including the United States, are taking over the stocks from other labs.

GOLDSTEIN: Wow. So a lot more to follow as this new normal as we all learn more about vaccines. From our Mexico City bureau, that is KJZZ's Rodrigo Cervantes. Rodrigo, thank you. Stay safe.

CERVANTES: Thank you, Steve.

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