Sunday, October 17

The electoral use of the vaccine confronts the Government and the Mexican opposition

The Undersecretary of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a press conference at the National Palace.
The Undersecretary of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a press conference at the National Palace.José Méndez / EFE

The first batches of the covid-19 vaccines arrived in Mexico this Wednesday. To receive the Pfizer plane, four secretaries appeared on the airport runway: Health, Finance, Defense and Foreign Relations. After the photo, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard described the day as “historic”, the “beginning of the end” of a pandemic that has already left more than 120,000 dead in Mexico. The political capitalization of the vaccine for the worst health crisis in decades was predictable and even legitimate. Even more so in the face of the upcoming electoral year and where all the parties are already taking positions. A few hours before the arrival of the Pfizer shipment, the PRI, PAN and PRD made their unusual alliance official —Va por México— and made it clear that the management of the pandemic will be one of their workhorses.

During the first months of the crisis, the opposition governors of Jalisco, Michoacán, Chihuahua or Quintana Roo took the opportunity to confront Morena’s health strategy by imposing tougher measures than those of the central Administration. “Now they want to monopolize access to the vaccine,” the PAN president, Marko Cortés, charged on Tuesday. Criticisms of the centralization of purchases with the pharmaceutical companies that are developing drugs against covid-19 are not new. Opposition governors have been claiming for weeks that they are willing to make purchases on their own. While the deputy Mónica Almeida López (PRD) affirmed in the middle of the month that the Federal Government seeks to have a monopoly of the antigen “to use it as an electoral strategy in the elections to be held in June 2021. It does not want the state authorities to acquire the vaccine on their own, even though they have Cofepris certifications and permits to store and refrigerate the doses ”.

The government’s position is that, in a first phase, centralized management is needed for a matter of efficiency and solidarity. “From ethics, common sense and the law, wanting to aspire to make fragmented purchases because it does not lead to a successful conclusion to citizens or to each state and federal entity,” said the undersecretary of health Hugo López Gatell last week. Another argument of the Government is the signing of agreements with multilateral organizations such as Covax, based in Geneva and sponsored by the WHO, to acquire the vaccine. “Supranational coordination mechanisms lead to integrated, consolidated, balanced purchases, fair distributions in countries that have very diverse economic and social conditions,” added López Gatell.

The president himself, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also faced the controversy in one of his morning conferences in the middle of the month. “When it is already of general use, applicable like any other drug that is relatively easily available, then companies could also take charge of acquiring doses for the application.” The purchase of medicines in Mexico, as a general rule, is open to the private sector and the different levels of the Administration. “According to the legislation, purchases can be made by each institution or in a consolidated way together with the central Administration. Although in the case of covid-19 it is not clear, ”says a source from the pharmaceutical sector who prefers not to give his name.

New drug purchase and distribution system

The battle for vaccines against the coronavirus is part of the controversial change in the drug purchase and distribution system that the IMSS and pharmaceutical companies carried out for years. Since the middle of last year, all purchases are centralized by the Treasury and a public company carries out the distribution. The reform has been criticized by the pharmaceutical employers and some analysts, who pointed to the lack of experience of the Treasury in a market as specialized and technical as that of medicines.

The shortage problems have occurred since then. Access to cancer drugs has suffered serious deficiencies since the end of 2018, causing protests from relatives of patients and awakening alerts from specialists. In 2019, the supply chain for HIV medicines was broken, and some patients receiving treatment many years ago had to switch medicines up to six times in three months. Measles, another virus that had been practically eradicated in Mexico for decades, reappeared strongly this year. Meanwhile, medical sources denounced in October that public health had several months without vaccines for tuberculosis.

After the arrival of the first batches of the antigen against covid-19, the Government of Morena has taken out its chest. Mexico has been the first Latin American country to approve the Pfizer vaccine. In addition to these drugs, the Government has signed purchase intention contracts to purchase up to 77.2 million doses of AstraZeneca (UK) and 35 million doses of CanSino (China). The undersecretary of Multilateral Affairs, Martha Delgado, one of the officials at the head of the diplomatic deployment to get the vaccine, assured last week that the CanSino vaccine could begin to be applied in Mexico in the first quarter of 2021 and that of AstraZeneca, during the second trimester. Mexico is also attached to the WHO Covax project, which will distribute up to 51 million doses in the country.

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