Tuesday, November 24

Mexico will not buy the Pfizer vaccine because it does not have the infrastructure to keep it frozen


Health personnel carry out tests against the coronavirus in Mexico City, on November 6.
Health personnel carry out tests against the coronavirus in Mexico City, on November 6.HENRY ROMERO / Reuters

The good news announced on Monday by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, about the advances of its vaccine against covid-19, has hit a difficult wall to climb for developing countries: the expensive freezing system that it requires for its maintenance. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has already warned that no health system in the world is prepared to transport and store this vaccine, including Mexico. The Mexican government announced Thursday that it will not buy it, because it does not have the structure that guarantees to preserve the quality of the vaccine: special machines that allow it to be refrigerated at -70 degrees Celsius. The cost of one of these machines can vary from 300,000 to a million pesos, according to experts consulted by EL PAÍS.

“Mexico does not have a deep-freezing network,” Hugo López-Gatell, undersecretary of Health and government spokesman during the pandemic, confirmed Thursday. “If we talk about a single dose or a handful of doses, this would not be a challenge, but when we talk about millions of doses and we think that it is essential that there be equity in their distribution, then we have to consider the country as a whole. It is a very big challenge. The World Health Organization (WHO) It has already expressed it to all countries: if they want to use this vaccine, they should consider that they should not purchase it unless there is a network, not refrigeration, but deep freezing, ”López-Gatell explained.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their vaccine against covid-19 it is “90% effective”. Pfizer explained in a statement that the results were obtained in its phase three trial, the last stage before formally requesting its approval, and after having tested it on 43,538 people. The announcement of the pharmaceutical company generated a sigh of relief in the world, but soon the details that make access to this new treatment difficult began to be known. The jug of cold water came from the health authorities of WHO and PAHO. “No health system in the Caribbean, in South America, in the United States, in Europe is ready to handle these vaccines,” warned Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of PAHO. “If the countries are going to use these vaccines they will have to prepare. The other eight vaccines that are in phase three can be managed in the cold chains that we find today in any country, “he added.

Although Mexico has already ruled out getting the Pfizer vaccine, López-Gatell reported that the Executive signed “a letter of intent” with the pharmaceutical company, but assured that no contract had been negotiated. “A very important consideration to sign or not the contracts depends on whether the possibility of guaranteeing this deep-freezing system that allows us to carry this product in time, form and with the appropriate conditions is realistic,” he emphasized.

Scientists agree. “The design of common vaccines allows them to be kept in freezing temperatures, but the Pfizer vaccine uses a synthesized molecule that is very sensitive to temperatures and if you don’t have a deep-freezing system, it degrades; if the distribution chain fails, a broken molecule will reach the population ”, explains Jorge Castañeda Sánchez, researcher at the Immunology Laboratory attached to the Department of Biological Systems of the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM). “This would be the first drug that in Mexico would need a system of this level. Achieving an infrastructure like this nationwide has a millionaire cost. Unfortunately, this vaccine goes to first world countries, which have the capacity to make this investment ”, adds the expert.

In the department that Castañeda works there are 80 researchers, who use five of these “ultra-freezers”, whose cost, he says, can range from 300,000 to a million pesos. “They have a special engine, with a special cooling system, but it is not only the cost of the equipment, but its maintenance. Furthermore, the issue is not only where the vaccine will be stored, but also its transport, because the transport also requires a special freezing system so that the vaccine does not thaw, ”warns Castañeda. The scientist is emphatic: “Mexico, like the developing countries, is not in a position to invest in infrastructure of this nature.”

Mexico has already started testing other coronavirus vaccines. Around 5,000 volunteers have been recruited in the Mexican capital to test the safety and efficacy of the drug made by the Chinese company CanSino. The protocol began this Friday in three health centers in Mexico City, where phase III of the prototype will be tested. Chancellor Marcelo Ebrard announced on Wednesday night the arrival of 7,000 units “to be applied immediately in phase III in Mexico with 15,000 volunteers.”

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