Mexico signs COVID-19 vaccine deal as cases top 500,000

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A potential coronavirus vaccine developed by the Oxford University will be produced in Mexico if its advanced trials are successful and it receives regulatory approval as cases in the country surpassed half a million. 

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the agreement with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which also provides for production in Argentina, should result in a vaccine that the government would provide free starting in the first quarter of 2021.

He said on Thursday access to the vaccine would be “universal and free” in Mexico, which has registered nearly 55,000 coronavirus deaths – the third-highest toll in the world behind the United States and Brazil.

“In other countries, they can decide to charge or select who is vaccinated and who not, but so there isn’t any doubt and to guarantee to all our people, all Mexicans are going to have access to the vaccine,” Lopez Obrador said at a news conference. 

Production of the vaccine in Mexico and Argentina would allow for distribution throughout Latin America, except for Brazil, which had already reached its own agreement with the drugmaker.

AstraZeneca said the agreement covers an initial production of 150 million doses for the region, with the possibility of increasing to 400 million doses. Production will be funded by the foundation of Mexican mogul Carlos Slim, once the world’s richest man.

Mexico already has agreements with four vaccine projects to carry out Phase III trials in the country, but this is the first production agreement.

The vaccine, being developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford, is one of the most promising of dozens that researchers around the world are racing to prove safe and efficient.

Mexico’s government has been criticised for their management of the pandemic and reluctance to put money into the economic recovery.

Al Jazeera’s John Holman, reporting from Mexico City, said: “It’s not a short-term solution but it is a bit of good news for Latin America, currently the region worst hit by COVD-19.”

Mexico’s health ministry on Thursday reported 7,371 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the total in the country to 505,751.

The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

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