We already know that, when it comes to vaccines against the coronavirus, some governments have done quite well. Those of the United States, Israel, United Kingdom or Chile, for example. Many other governments, due to incompetence or lack of resources, have done it wrong. Who has done the worst is the European Union, taking into account its enormous financial and industrial resources: less than 10% of the population vaccinated with the double dose. Oh, the politicians and the technocrats.
Would private management have obtained better results? Imagine that several of the richest people in the world, people who have proven their ability to create and organize gigantic corporations, had designed a plan to manufacture and distribute vaccines at an affordable price: four dollars per unit. Imagine an operation without political ties or bureaucratic entanglements, carried out altruistically and with the best of intentions. How would it have worked?
Actually, you don’t need to imagine. The plan exists.
The initiative emerged from the Bill Gates Foundation shortly after the pandemic broke out. Bill Gates (more than 130,000 million dollars of assets) contacted AstraZeneca and the foundation of his Mexican friend Carlos Slim (more than 68,000 million assets) in order to provide vaccines to the Latin American continent. In a formidable philanthropic exercise, AstraZeneca agreed not to make a profit on its product and, for two years, to offer it at cost price.
Someone, the Slim Foundation o AstraZeneca (details are unknown, agreements between private parties are not subject to public scrutiny), decided that the active principle of AstraZeneca was produced in the Buenos Aires mAbxience laboratory of Grupo Insud (owned by Argentines Hugo Sigman and Silvia Gold) and that It will be packaged in the Mexican laboratory Liomont. The intention, it seems, was to give the matter a Pan-American dimension.
The plan was announced in August 2020. Today, eight months later, the waiting continues.
The Argentine laboratory has manufactured and sent to Mexico the raw material equivalent to more than 20 million doses. That’s what the customs documents say. But a decision by the US government, not to export the filters necessary for the packaging process, paralyzed the activity of the Mexican laboratory.
In Liomont they say that the problem is already solved. However, not a single dose has yet to leave the laboratory in useable condition. In Argentina, political pressure is growing for the product manufactured by mAbxience to remain in the country and a deputy from the Macrista coalition has denounced Hugo Sigman. The deputy, José Manuel Cano, accuses Sigman’s company of having collected 60 million dollars from the Argentine government for a vaccine that is exported to another country and about which nothing is known. Sigman claims that it cannot do other than fulfill its contract with AstraZeneca, which owns the product. Mexican laboratories also refer any questions to AstraZeneca. And AstraZeneca is silent.
The private operation and, according to all the parties involved, completely philanthropic is becoming a public problem. And leaving the governments that had them without vaccines. Which means that the most illustrious tycoons can fail as much as the most obtuse European bureaucrat.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.